When you get a new pet, how do you choose a name for it? My brother-in-law thinks I’m barking for the way I go about it, but for me, a name has to not only fit the face (and character) of the pet, but it also has to have some significance, be a bit ‘clever’ or a bit tangential. I guess the long-and-short of it is that I just don’t like names to be too ‘obvious’.
Last year, for example, I got a couple of chinchillas, one grey, one black and grey (technically ‘black velvet’). Common names for them are things like Pebbles (because they sit very still, but also because they leave little pebble-shaped presents everywhere!), Smokey or Shadow. But that was all a bit too ordinary for me. I was planning to call one Nube (Spanish for ‘cloud’) and one Luna (moon), because they come from high in the South American Andes – up in the clouds, under the moon, where Spanish is widely spoken. Those names just didn’t fit their personalities when they arrived though, so they ended up as Ricochet – because she goes flying round the cage like a stray bullet – and Chiwi – ‘black hair’ in Quechua, one of the indigenous Andean languages.
When my brother-in-law heard the chinchillas’ names, though, he thought I was bonkers. For him, as for many others, a name should be simple and straightforward; nothing pretentious. Some owners choose ‘people’ names for their pets – I’ve known several dogs named Chloë, cats called Jason or Babs and even a couple of goldfish called Jack and Jill – but that always makes me a little uncomfortable somehow. Like the owner doesn’t quite realize the pet isn’t a person. And what do you do if you then become friendly with someone who shares your pet’s name? ‘Nigel, will you please stop licking the bin! Sorry Nige, wasn’t talking to you, I meant the dog!’ Wouldn’t you just want to cringe with embarrassment?
I can’t get into the whole naming-after-celebrities thing either (and of course this isn’t just pets); it just seems such a cliché. To be in the park calling for Clooney, Angelina or whatever – doesn’t it feel like you’re wandering round with a poster on your forehead? And do you really want a bunch of complete strangers in the vet’s waiting room to know you have a thing for the lead singer of a one-hit-wonder band from 1985?
Then there are the ‘traditional’ pet names – Rover or Rocky for a dog, Tigger or Lucky for a cat. I know the point is to name the pet, not the owner, but for me, it’s also about expressing my personality (marking my territory, perhaps?), so I just couldn’t go for something traditional.
Maybe it’s true, maybe I just am a little bit barking. It’s a good job I don’t have kids – Fifi Trixibelle Geldof and Apple Paltrow might be in for some competition if I did!