What Your Pet's Name Says About You

Instead of presenting our premise step by step, and then ever-so-gently easing into the conclusion, let's get right to the heart of the matter and say what needs to be said. If your dog is named "Plato," you have a serious self-esteem problem. I say that because I once had a dog named "Plato."

The sociology of pet names is a fascinating and revealing topic. When I was a college student I tried submitting a paper on the subject, "Do African-Americans give their pets African-American names?" Do they call their male dog "Jamal" or "Demarco," or do they call him "Skippy"? Do they call their female cat "Aisha" or "Imani," or do they call her "Tabby"?

The professor refused to accept my paper, saying that it was inappropriate. Not inappropriate because it was in any way stereotypical or "racist," but rather because this was a Physics class.

Consider the categories of pet names. Basically, there are three: Clever, Descriptive and Derivative. And remember: The category in which your pet name falls speaks volumes about the person who assigned the name.

Take the Clever ones for example. A person who owns two cats, and names them Ying and Yang, or Star and Bucks, or Truth and Dare, is trying to draw attention to himself by showing how clever he is. I knew a fellow (a philosophy major, of course) who named his two cats, "Toby" and "Not Toby."

To anyone who asked why he had picked those names, he explained that they were a reference to Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be..." quote. A sure sign that you're a pretentious, attention-grabbing poser is when you need to explain the animal's name. A cat's name should never have to be explained.

I knew a young man who rejoiced in shocking people. Accordingly, his two dogs were named "Hitler" and "Goebbels." Ha-ha, we get the joke (and no, they weren't German Shepherds). But unless these animals were dedicated fascists, the names were embarrassingly contrived.

Descriptive names are nice because they are not only extremely common, they tend to make sense. A dog with spots being called "Spot" makes sense, a fluffy cat being called "Fluffy" makes sense, and a black cat with four white paws being called "Socks" makes sense (although it is flirting dangerously with clever).

It's also possible to choose names that combine two categories. For instance, calling a cat "Morgan" because, like Morgan Freeman, it appears to have freckles, is an example of such a combination. It is both clever and descriptive. It is also stupid.

As for derivative names, which tend to be unimaginative, they are, thankfully, the most common names of all. Names like Rex and King and Queenie and Scout and Rover are all solid, derivative names.

The only derivative names that should be avoided are celebrity pet names. Calling your dog "Lassie," or "Marmaduke" is the sign of a needy, feeble-minded person. And calling your pet cat "Garfield" is a sign of poor moral character. I say that because I once had a cat named "Garfield."