How to Name Puppies

Tip for Choosing The Perfect Puppy Name

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Puppies let you know when they like their new name!. pbnj productions/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Finding a proper puppy name is serious business. Naming your puppy can be fun, but also can feel like hair-pulling responsibility. After all, it has to be that perfect mix that describes everything you love about your new baby dog.

How Puppies Are Named

Puppy names come to us in flashes of inspiration and often seem to be chosen by the pet herself. For instance, my dog’s name—Magic—speaks to how it felt when we finally got him.

Magical, indeed!

Names are so important in helping people connect to a new puppy that today shelters, rescues, and advocacy groups make sure that all puppies available for adoption have a name. You may wish to change it later, after adoption. But having a name offers a personal connection with this living being, rather than the impersonal "Puppy Boy # 953" that often was used in the past. Naming is branding, and a great way to market a little one and increase his chances for getting picked for his own gotcha-day adoption celebration.

Purebred Puppy Names

When you adopt a purebred puppy from a breeder, she will likely already have her name decided, at least in part. The “registered name” is the official identification for the purebred puppy, and can be a long tongue-twister that describes her ancestry. In the case of Magic, his breeder told us he came from the “M” litter (a way for European German Shepherd breeders to keep track) and so we were encouraged to name him something that began with the letter M.

Parts of the registered names are usually the breeder’s kennel where the puppy was born. Magic comes from Fernheim German Shepherds, and so his registered name is Magic von Fernheim. Different breeds may have other requirements. The registered name also must be approved by the registering body so that no other dog of that name has exactly the same name.

You can sometimes accomplish this by using unique spellings. For instance, my dog’s name could instead have been spelled Magick, or Majik or other varieties. Your breeder will help you with choosing a registered name.

But your registered name may be different than the “call name” that the baby goes by for every day. After all, it’s a bit of a mouthful to refer to “Magic von Fernheim” and other pups may have even more of a mouthful of a name. The call name is what the baby is called on a routine basis.

Puppies need not be registered to sport glorious, exotic, and imaginative names. Dogs are named for appearance (Spot), ​location where they were adopted (Win Dixie), for personality (Sweety), and even for famous people (Elvis). They may have descriptive names, like Re-Run who was a second-chance rescue pup. Mooch got his name by hogging his owner’s pillow at night.

Practice Teaching The Name

Choose a one- or two-syllable name that’s unique to your puppy. Since spoken words are your baby dog's "second language" make it simple for her to learn. Sure, you can call her Princess Carmel Candy Corn but be sure that long string of syllables gets shorted down to a simpler "call name" that she readily can learn and respond to.

Names that start with a hard consonant may be easier for youngsters to learn. Remember you'll need to use her name in training, and a plosive sound can be heard farther over distances.

Find a name that you like, too, since the new baby will wear the tag for the next decade or longer.

Begin using your puppy's name with positive activities. For example, say "Carmel, dinner time" or "Carmel, play fetch" or "Carmel, come!" and other fun activities. Some pups hear the word "no" so often, they assume that their name is "No-No!" So instead, make an effort to use her name in very positive ways. By associating her name with treats, games, and attention, she'll begin to identify and recognize the Carmel-word as referring to her. That, in turn, will help you when training her because she'll pay closer attention to commands partnered with her name and know it matters to her.

Make using her name part of the normal puppy routine.

What NOT To Name Puppies

There’s really only one rule to follow when it comes to naming your puppy. Make sure the name is a positive one.

Puppies have egos, and she may not know the verbatim meaning of the word but the emotional intent comes through loud and clear. Avoid names like "Devil" or "Ugly" or similar negative connotation names. That’s why negative names all too often foster poor behavior, while a positive one promotes self-esteem. It’s a wonderful and amazing thing to see a puppy that’s less than gorgeous respond to and blossom into a real show-stopper when named something like “Beauty.”

Once you’ve found a name for your baby, try it on for size to be sure it fits. Puppies have a way of responding to and accepting the perfect name and it may take you a while to find it. Take your time. Puppy christening celebrates the canine spirit and should complement the individual soul of your special friend.