I have always found the process of naming pets interesting. I obviously don’t know what the thinking was eons ago when Americans began naming their dogs after European royalty, but I suspect it may have been intentionally insulting. Americans have long rejected any notion they are inferior to other mortals —and while it is true our ancestors once knelt on bended knee, I suspect doing so was merely preferable to spending a few years in some dank dungeon dining on Bat guano.
I imagine that naming dogs after European royalty began after 1754, a time when both Great Britain and France used American colonists and Native Americans as pawns in their quest for power and real estate.
My research tells me that early on, dogs were simply called “dogge,” mainly because that’s what they were. Before dogs had names, they seldom slept inside the house with their humans; no self-respecting American canine would put up with that today. And then people began to name their animals according to the services they performed. Hunting dogs may have been called “Hunter.” If they protected the family or livestock from wolves, they may have been called “Wolf.” If they were very large dogs, people may have called them “big boy” or “Bear.”
Then, in the late eighteenth century, people began naming their dogs King, Queenie, Duke, Duchess, Lady, Prince, Princess, Baron, Tsar, or Caesar. And, as an aside, if you need a good laugh, check out the comedy of Eddie Izzard in his stand-up routine, “Mr. Dog to Cesar.”
Our disdain for members of the aristocracy remained popular until only recently when people decided to call their dogs by other names. Spotted dogs were often called Spot, female dogs “Lassie,” and if we suspected them of being extraterrestrials, we named them “Frank.” Remember when Dalmatians were associated with firefighting and were often called “Sparky?”
Our dogs today have less than robust names: Fifi describes the high-maintenance poodle whose owners have them enrolled in a dog spa; Marley could be the name of a cockapoo who responds to reggae music or whose owner’s brain was, over time, fried from drug use.
Most dogs today are no longer working animals. They are creatures of comfort, our friends, and the guardians of our innermost secrets. And they have become the target of a multi-billion dollar industry —including mental health therapists, wellness clubs, and everything from diamond-studded sweaters to pet cemeteries with angelic music playing softly in the background. If this trend continues, a Shih Tzu could one day secure the Democratic nomination for president.
Perhaps it is just as well that we no longer name our dogs after royalty. No one wants to hear their neighbors calling out, “Here, Barack,” or “Sit, Hillary.”