In 2019 Britain, dogs have firmly found their way into our families and, like with any new family member, the business of naming them is taken very seriously. But recent research from Audley Villages suggests that naming dogs was just as important for our ancestors.
In 2019, popular names for dogs (such as Bella, Ruby and Max) wouldn’t be out of place in a classroom. Psychological studies even go so far as to suggest that the bond between an owner and their dog is similar between a parent and a child.
This certainly wasn’t the same as the Medieval era, where names like Whitefoot and Clenche suggested a much less sentimental connection.
By looking at popular dogs’ names through the ages, we can tell a lot about our changing relationship with our four-legged friends.
Medieval dogs weren’t as doted upon as they are now, as they primarily had a working place in society. Used for hunting, herding and guarding, some of the most popular names were descriptive of their useful attributes, such as Nosewise – meaning a good sense of smell. Dogs were often named after their physical traits, such as Whitefoot, Sturdy or Magastamo – meaning big mouth!
But this didn’t mean that dogs were seen as merely functional. Fourteenth century hunter Gaston, Comte de Foix said: “I speak to my hounds as I would to a man…and they understand me and do as I wish better than any man of my household.”
By the time of King Charles I (who even gave his name to his favourite breed of spaniels) our relationships with dogs had shifted again. While dogs were still seen as useful, the most popular names were less about what they did and more about their personality. A talkative dog might be called “Chanter,” a good name for a playful personality could be “Tickler,” whereas a more comical dog might be called “Drunkard.”
Female dogs got a better deal, with names including Beauty, Duchess or Jenny. William Shakespeare was particularly affectionate about his pets, saying “Bulldogs are adorable, with faces like toads that have been sat on.”
By the Victorian era, dogs have more or less downed tools as working animals and had installed themselves in front of the parlour fire. And this is reflected in popular names for them. Albert and Ivy were amongst the most popular names for both dogs and children. Dogs had turned from workers to beloved companions. It’s no coincidence that the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs Home were both founded in the nineteenth century.
For more about dogs and the roles they play today, check out this Audley Stories piece about therapy dogs.