Monday, September 24, 2007

What is in a name?

Oh boy. Be careful what you name your dog.

My father named my first childhood dog. Rex. Not so very original, and I didn't find out until years later that the reason my dog had to have the dumb every-dog-in-the-world name of Rex, was because my father's childhood dog was named Napoleon, and he got teased. (Frankly, I think he would have gotten teased even if his dog's name was Rex or Spot or Rover, because he was the minister's oldest son, and kids love to tease the minister's kids, but it's too late now.) And I can't really complain about a dog named Rex, because I had a parakeet named Birdie, two cats named Stripey and Blacky, and a stuffed animal named Horsey. So who was I to talk. And Rex was a regal dog indeed, there you go.

My last pound rescue was Measly. She was a marvellous dog. I had asked the folks at the shelter to let me know when a "mixed hound" came in for adoption. Oh, they said, they just happened to have one at that very moment, and she was even young - probably five or six months old. I should come right over. So I bundled up my three year old son and over we went. They showed me a sickly puppy, a typical Heinz 57 - black, with brown eyebrows and leggings, with a white blaze, chest and socks. And freckles. My precocious little son eyeballed the freckles and announced, "She's meezwhee," having just been introduced to measles in a children's book. I looked at the skinny, sorry, sad little pup and thought that she certainly was, but she had a bottomless sweetness in her huge eyes. Not an ounce of trust in those eyes toward any of the adults on that day, but her immediate adoration of the little boy who was quietly stroking her head won me over. Her name stuck, and as names do, it fit her. It was the seventies and we had hideous, celery-soup-green shag carpeting in the family room. That poor puppy was sick so many times in the first months. She couldn't always make it outside (no doubt due to the Human's missing her clues), but she would sneak down to that long shag wall to wall carpet. I should have been grateful. The grossout green color matched just about anything she hurled or spewed upon it. But how I dreaded scrubbing the long fibers and then renting a huge carpet cleaning machine from the Giant again. She finally outgrew her illnesses, became an unqualified delight of a family member, seeing me through a divorce, single parenthood, nursing school in an apartment, marriage to Bill, and thank God she got to enjoy life on our farm. She died in my arms, way too young, of a degenerative spinal disease, common in her extremely distant German Sheppard ancestors.

I don't want to take up too much of your time, so I'll fast forward to puppy William. (There are many wonderful names with delightful stories, but I know you are busy, dear readers, and I'll not abuse you.) William came all the way from Sweden, with the fancy official name of Burnt Sienna Midsummer Night. I chose to call him William for two reasons. First after the slightly talented author of the Midsummer Night's Dream; "William" sounded nicer than "the bard" to me. And more importantly after my extraordinary grandson, William. William the puppy's fawn coat was nearly identical in color to William the grandson's dirty blond hair. William the puppy's sunny disposition reminded me so much of William the grandson's ready, charming smile. And William the puppy had this sense of fun that made me wish William the grandson lived much much closer. And so the puppy from Sweden was named after the grandson from Chicago, and it fits.

But. (Here is where you really do have to consider all of the ramifications in naming your dog beforehand.) My husband's name is William, though he's called Bill. And we live in the city where houses are just a matter of feet apart. And William the puppy is enjoying his adolescence. So I find myself yelling things while sitting on the porch, like "William, do NOT hump your sister!" "William don't pee on the boxwood, puh-leeeeze!" "William so help me if you eat that poop, you are dead meat and you will never kiss me again, do you hear me! Never!"

I noticed that the neighbors were looking a little strangely at Bill.

Yup, be careful what you name your dog.


  1. Patience, you are the best! I loved Measley and Opie (Can you write about Opie? Maybe an excerpt from "Mama Pajama Tells a Story?") and Gracious - I never had a dog and these are the only dogs I ever knew at the time. OK, so I am not that big on slobbery dog kisses, but I do try!

    AND, I love, love, love your love and affection for Sweet William.


  2. I can only imagine the things your neighbors first thought. Hilarous!

  3. I helped raise some afghan puppies and the one who was eventually named "Comet" (YAWN) was always "Fatso" to me, even when he outgrew his puppy pudginess and was lithe and lovely. He LIKED his name, but his owner didn't appreciate it!

    PS That story was just an excuse for me to say i loooove your writing, but: German SHEPHERD. Shepherd. Because they herd sheps. Pet peeve. You don't have to publish this if you don't want a typo called out publicly. :)

  4. Thank you thank you thank you! There are a few words that I have misspelled (hmmmm, maybe that one) forever. Once I learn a "trick" like the awesome herding sheps I'm good for life. Separate. In third grade our teacher told us a story and the punch line was there was nothing in the basement, "sep a rat with an 'e' for a tail" and I never spelled it wrong again. I realized a couple of years ago that I had been spelling forty wrong for my entire adult life. And I still puzzle over family and across.
    But, I will never get shepherd wrong again! woo-HOOOO! (The things that make me happy!)

  5. Oh my gosh. I am telling that "nothing in the basement" trick to everyone who ever spells that word wrong!! That's great!

    Language is SO FUN. :)


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