The rising trend in anthropomorphizing our animals is fueled by several factors, including giving them human names.
But what happened to old-school names like Fido, Rover and Lady for our pooches? Are they too stale and overused in our collective historical consciousness? Where did they come from, and why did they come to represent the archetypal pet for so long?
See Spot run? Not much anymore. But starting in the 1930s, Spot was the widely known puppy of Dick and Jane, the title characters of reading and phonics books by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp. The entire series of Dick and Jane was published over a span of 40 years, so it’s no small wonder the name Spot stayed relevant for so long.
- Fun fact: Interestingly enough, the character Spot actually started its literary life as a cat.
In 1980, Spot was reinforced as a pet name by the publication and popularity of another children’s book, Spot the Dog, by Eric Hill, in which the dog actually wore spots of brown on his golden coat.
Dalmatians were also known as popular recipients of the name Spot.
Rover is a common sobriquet for unknown pooches (like John Doe, only for dogs), but there’s little evidence of the name’s origin. “Rover” in English means “one that roams around”; it seems natural to brand canines, which boast unmatched olfactory senses and curious natures, with such a name.
In 1905, the British silent film Rescued by Rover by Cecil Milton Hepworth included the first onscreen canine hero. The dog was a collie and no doubt paved the way for the classic Lassie films and television series to take hold of America’s heart. Watch the beautiful dog in action here:
A children’s game, Red Rover, gained popularity in the 19th century, but the game contains no allusion to dogs. This anonymous poster also puts in his two cents regarding the origins of the name “Rover,” but the claims remain as yet unsubstantiated.
Curiously, “røver” means “pirate” in Norwegian. So if you’re looking for an old-school name for your dog with a twist, “Røver” may fit the bill nicely.
From the Latin term for “faithful” (fidelitas), Fido is possibly best known historically as President Abraham Lincoln’s trusty pet. The dog’s pedigree remains unknown, but it is confirmed that the dog was born around 1855 and died a little less than a year after the president’s assassination.
Lincoln apparently left his beloved pet with neighbors in Springfield, Illinois, after his election because he didn’t think the political atmosphere would agree with Fido. He left strict instructions for the new owners to treat Fido in the best manner possible. They ended up bringing the dog to Lincoln’s funeral to meet his mourners.
Today, Fido is a quintessential everydog name, and although we rarely know a dog by that name now, we still know what it signifies.
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It is noted in history that Walt Disney’s family owned a pet poodle by the name of Lady. In 1955, Disney produced the animated feature Lady and the Tramp, a story of two dogs from different backgrounds finding love in the big city.
Lady, a Cocker Spaniel, has pedigree, class and a collar with a license, setting her apart from the rest of her canine gang.
In 2008, Lady was actually the most popular dog name in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. The name connotes upward mobility, grace, finesse and good upbringing.
But in recent years, the name has slipped several spots to favor dog names of a more relatable, down-home nature, such as Maggie and Molly.
Human Names for Dogs
In recent years, we’ve seen lists of most popular dog names and most popular children’s names sharing the same monikers.
This suggests that we’re no longer looking for animals to keep us company — we’re looking for family members.