During a recent visit with my family, my sister told me she liked the most recent adoptable dog I had posted on social media, but could not imagine ever having a pet named “Bentley” and worried about changing the name. She asked if this was common and if names ever stand in the way of adoption for shelter animals. Should you change your rescue dog’s name?
And yes- of course they do. One of my very first foster dogs was a completely housebroken shih tzu named “Puddles.” You can imagine the conversations I had with potential adopters.
There are the names with clear implications- Lucifer, Felony, Psycho, and Jaws may be perfectly lovely animals, but it can be tough for an adopter to get past the name.
There are those that are references to something you might be unfamiliar with- I might think Chevalier Tialys and Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully are great names for my own pets, but your random adopter who doesn’t have the same excellent taste in books I do isn’t going to be able to appreciate them in the same way.
And there are those that just… don’t quite fit. Too common, too bougie, too cutesy, too human- whatever the reason, not everyone will vibe with every name.
So… can you change your rescue dog’s name? Will it traumatize the animal to learn a new name? Are they attached to their old ones?
And the good news is: absolutely! Here are a few ways you might go about it.
The first thing to keep in mind is that animals are not attached to their own names in the same way that humans are. For people, names have a lot of weight. They may come with history, legacy, or cultural significance. They may be given and cherished as a gift or taken and loved as a choice, but either way, your name is part of who you are. For dogs and cats? It’s just the sound the person makes to mean “I am talking to you now”.
The second is that a lot of names are given in the shelter or by fosters. When an animal comes into rescue, their pasts are often unknown, so the best we can do is give them a clean slate and a name that lets them know they’re loved. So there’s a very good chance the animal you’re adopting has only been “Ziggy Stardust” for two weeks of his life, has no clue that those words are supposed to refer to him, and will not care in the slightest if you decide to call him “Jeremy” instead.
But wait- what if they DO know their name? When I got my dog, she was about 12 years old and had been named “Ella” for about 10 of those years. There’s nothing wrong with the name “Ella.” It’s a perfectly lovely name. But it didn’t really fit her. It’s fairy-tale-whimsical. A name for a sweet little girl. What I had was a dignified dame with a twinkle in her eye. Also, I knew like four other dogs named Ella. I went back and forth on changing it. I experimented with different names in a cheery tone to see if she really actually knew it or was just responding to an inviting voice. She knew it and answered to it, so calling her “Margot” or “Ramona” or “Diane” seemed like it would be unfairly confusing to her. Also, if the work has already been done to teach her her name, why throw it away? So Ella it was for the first couple months, but I couldn’t get over the sense that it just didn’t fit us.
So I opted to change it, but to choose a similar name. It’s amazing the difference one letter can make. She’s Nella now (or, usually, just Nell), which suits her beautifully and she never skipped a beat and still answers to it. It was the easiest to implement in terms of training and asks little of the dog.
The drawback is, of course, that it takes a little creativity and compromise to come up with just the right name. Gunner can become Sonny or Gus or even Aragorn, but if you had your heart set on naming him Beverly, you’ll have to come up with a different tactic.
For a whole new name, try using the old name as the first and the new as the middle for a while. Maybe you took home an Albert, but you just know that, deep in his soul, he’s really meant to be a Spaghettio. For the first couple weeks, call him Albert Spaghettio. Use the name a lot, especially when good things are happening, and then gradually drop the first name. He’ll learn pretty quickly that when you say “Spaghettio,” you mean him… and might even mean that he’s getting a treat or a walk or some ear scratches, which is awesome.
Of course, the truth is, a dog or cat clever and engaged enough to learn one name will be able to learn a new one with time. And there are many, many animals who are happy enough to respond to their person’s tone of voice and will answer to any variety of nicknames and never have any clue what their actual name is. If you simply start calling your new pet by their desired name and rewarding them when they respond, they’ll catch on with or without extra measures to ease the transition.
Whether you call them Babycakes, Bear, or Optimus Prime, and whether you keep the name they came with or give them a brand-new one, the important thing is that they’re safe and adored. A new name is a small price to pay for a loving family, so don’t let a goofy one be the thing that comes between you and your potential new four-legged soulmate! If you are looking for a great place to GET your soulmate try Second Chance Ranch or Tenth Life Cat Rescue
If you need someone to help you with Babycakes when you are at work or traveling give us a call at 4-Legged Kids! 636-405-0400
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