We treat our pet dogs like family members, and that’s reflected in the names we give them. In 2019, popular names for dogs included Bella, Ruby and Max –names you would to commonly hear on any playground. And this is no coincidence. A scientific study found that the bond between an owner and their dog shares a lot with parent and child.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Research from Audley Villages suggests that the names our ancestors chose was guided by their relationship with their dogs – and that relationship has changed considerably.
Unlike sofa-dwelling dogs of today, Medieval dogs were primarily there to work. Prized for herding, hunting and guarding, dogs were commonly named for their useful attributes. Nosewise meant a good sense of smell – useful for hunting and tracking. Whitefoot and Sturdy point to physical traits.
This isn’t to say they weren’t viewed with respect. Fourteenth century hunter Gaston, Comte de Foix said: “I speak to my hounds as I would to a man…and they understand me and do as I wish better than any man of my household.”
By the 1600s, we start to see more interest in the individual personalities of dogs, suggesting greater affection for them in the culture. Names were less about what they did for us and more about their personalities.
Chanter seemed a fitting name for a talkative dog whilst Tickler tells of a playful personality. Some popular female names were positively doting – take Beauty, Duchess or Darling.
King Charles I enjoyed his spaniels so much that he gave his named to the breed. William Shakespeare showed his delight for dogs when he memorably wrote: “Bulldogs are adorable, with faces like toads that have been sat on.”
By the reign of Queen Victoria, dogs had almost entirely shifted from workers to family companions. With the most popular names including Albert and Ivy for both dogs and children, the 1900s attitudes towards dogs are ones we’d recognise today. At this time, Brits started to show real concern for their welfare, with the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs Home founded in 1824 and 1860 respectively.
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