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I struggle to master the (pet) name game

Having once been the proud owner of a goldfish named Goldie, I can't say I've ever given that much thought to naming anything. In my defense, I was only 6 when I named my fish. That same year we got our Welsh corgi puppy.

I almost named her Brownie, but my mother took a dim view of my tendency to name everything after a crayon, so she steered me toward alternative synonyms. Since the puppy was the color of gingerbread, at my mother's suggestion she became Ginger. This must have triggered a switch from colors to foods in my thought process, because years later I owned a cat named Omelet.

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Others in my association seem to have shared my childhood lack of creativity when it came to naming pets. My husband's mother owned a succession of white poodles all named Happy, and I know my grandfather had at least two parakeets named Bird. A neighbor had a Boston terrier named Tally Girl. Years later, a successor was named Tally Two.

I thought that was sort of cheating - like royalty tacking VI, VII, and VIII onto their names, rather than coming up with something original. At least none of them went as far as my cousin had in her stretch for whimsicality: Her "peekapoos" were named Dipsy and Doodle.

My early lack of imagination probably stemmed from my association with a very prosaic grandmother. If she'd owned pets, they'd have been named A, B, and C. Or 1, 2, and 3. My father, on the other hand, once named a pet terrier Matilda Matoogie, known to the family as "Toogie."

Years after they were both gone, I asked my mother how my father had come up with the name. She said he told her the dog just looked like a Matilda Matoogie. I suppose there's some logic to that. My grandmother's name was Mary Gennett, and he always called her "Susie." I guess, to him, his mother-in-law just looked like a Susie.

I've never quite gotten the hang of using "people" names for pets, although our friend Patti's dogs, Charlie and Amelia, seem quite satisfied. Another friend just adopted a Chihuahua named Timothy; his predecessor was Peter. Since these dogs have definite "person"-alities, I suppose it's appropriate that they have human names.

Still, it's a little confusing to be on the phone and hear someone yell "Susie, drop that lizard!" In this case, Susie is my friend's cat, not my grandmother.

At least one of our pets came by her name accidentally. When I was 7 or 8, we got a parakeet. For several days we debated about names. Considering my previous naming history, I would probably have gone with Greenie, but one afternoon my mother reached into the cage to replace the water dish and the bird bit her.

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Jerking her hand out, Mother protested "You stinker!" That's when I suggested we name the bird Stinker. Mother thought that name had a decidedly negative connotation, so we dropped the first letter and our newest resident became Tinker.

In recent years, I've given a little more thought to finding appropriate names. When we brought our last puppy home from the animal shelter, she was such a mass of uncoordinated fur that for the first week her operative name was Scraggle. Poor thing. Even I knew that didn't sound very complimentary.

Then one afternoon I noticed she seemed to be surrounded by a mist of white hair. She immediately became known as Misty. As it turned out, the puppy hair matured into a silky platinum blond coat. Women pay hairdressers a fortune to get their hair to look like that dog's. Total strangers would stop us on the street to comment on what a beautiful dog she was. I guess it's a good thing we didn't call her Scraggle.

In all honesty, I doubt any pet really cares what their people name them. That's the best part of owning a pet - whimsical or prosaic, they love you anyway.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society