How to Rescue a Pet from a Bad Name

By Mark Skoultchi

May 2, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 5.56.45 PMIn my next life, I’d like to come back as a cat in the Bay Area. No, really. They have it made. Most of the pets in I know have their owners on a leash, and a very short one at that. They are coddled and cared for with no needs unmet. I’d say the average San Francisco kitty eats better than I do. An ex-colleague confessed to feeding her cat duck confit, and our office dog, Doogie, may be the most beloved creature on this side of the Mississippi.

Instead of popping out kids, we’re picking up pooches (and their poo) in record numbers. And why not? They love you unconditionally, while children definitely don’t. As a pet’s provider and safekeeper, you’re the sun, moon, and stars to them. Sure, with a pet comes great responsibility, but hey, at least they can walk when they’re first born.

When you adopt a rescue dog or cat, they may come saddled with a sad name. What to if you don’t like the name that your pet came with?  Have no fear.  Despite what people say, you can change the name of your pet. It’s not as difficult as is changing, say, a human name. Your dog or cat isn’t attached to their moniker like we humans are, and even an old dog can learn new (name) tricks.

If you do change your pet’s name, you just need to follow a few steps. The first step is definitely the toughest: deciding what the new name will be. You could modify the pet’s existing name to something more to your liking. Or if you choose an entirely new name, consider the pet’s appearance. Does it have any unique physical attributes?  Color, size, or spots? Also think about your pet’s personality. How would you describe he/she in one word? You might draw inspiration from the area where your pet was adopted from or the shelter’s name. Are there any special stories about how your pet was found? Finally, if your pet is of a specific breed, that could also serve as rich fodder for name ideas.

In the end, don’t forget to keep it simple. Try to stick to names of one or two syllables, to quickly grab a wayward pet’s attention. It’s also a lot easier to repeat a short name over and over, as you’re likely to do. After all, the primary purpose of a pet’s name is to establish that you’re in charge. You want your pet to come when they’re called, just like you would a petulant child. And in the spirit of simplicity, try not to get too clever with your pet’s name. Remember that the name is more for your pet, not to fulfill your need to be ironic. Choose something timeless and that will age well because the average pet, even a goldfish, lives longer than an Internet meme.

Once you’ve decided on a new name, you want to transition from the old to the new somewhat gracefully. For the first few days, I hear bribery usually works. When you want your pet’s attention, call out their new name, establish eye contact, and give them a treat. You want to teach them that no matter how your voice sounds, responding to their name is always in their best interest. Also, if you can, try not to associate your pet’s name with negative repercussions. You want them to maintain positive associations with their name—something that everyone, even the big brands that we do naming for—aspire to achieve.

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