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SHOW DOGS' NAMES SHOULDN'T HAPPEN TO A DOG
Robert Cantwell
February 12, 1962
Near the end of the third act of King Lear, the old king, the Fool and Edgar stumble out of the storm on the heath into a farmhouse. Lear, who is now completely out of his mind, conducts a ghastly travesty of a trial, bringing a gray cat to justice and pretending it is his daughter. "My tears begin to take his part," murmurs Edgar (aside), and there follows what the romantic critics of the 19th century considered one of the finest examples of Shakespeare's humanity and his genius in Lear's lines:
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February 12, 1962

Show Dogs' Names Shouldn't Happen To A Dog

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Near the end of the third act of King Lear, the old king, the Fool and Edgar stumble out of the storm on the heath into a farmhouse. Lear, who is now completely out of his mind, conducts a ghastly travesty of a trial, bringing a gray cat to justice and pretending it is his daughter. "My tears begin to take his part," murmurs Edgar (aside), and there follows what the romantic critics of the 19th century considered one of the finest examples of Shakespeare's humanity and his genius in Lear's lines:

The little dogs and all,
Tray, Blanch and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me.

The greatness of the passage is in its simplicity and its unexpectedness: the names of the dogs. These dogs are not merely dogs, a part of the background, noisy and obstreperous, but distinct and personalized dogs, and Lear's affection for them is understood by anyone who ever loved a dog of his own.

But suppose Shakespeare had given them names like those that are now given to American show dogs:

The little dogs and all,
Foggyfurze Sugar Puss, Temple Bells of Blossom Lea,
And Wee Bit O'Honey of Winki-Poo, see, they bark at me.

These are the real names of dogs who have figured prominently in modern dog shows, and with names like that it wouldn't have mattered to Lear whether they barked or not. Only in the past few years have fancy and bizarre or ridiculous names been used. They are not found in literature, or in dog shows until around the early 1920s. Names in the past were simple, like that of Argus in the Odyssey, weak and crippled with age, who still recognized Ulysses when the wanderer at last reached home. Homer could hardly have called him Robbie's Heavenly Daze (by De Karlos Dashaway out of Robbie's Kiss of Allah), the proud label of a champion cocker. The homely old bulldog in Dickens' Oliver Twist, whose blood-red paw prints reveal that Bill Sikes is a murderer, was named Bull's-Eye, not Mi Little Wee Wee's Cricket—another name found in a recent dog show. When Scott put a dog in Guy Mannering he named it Wasp—"Wasp, man! Wow, but he's glad to see you!"

Almost every newspaper account of a best-in-show these days ends with a revelation that in the privacy of the home the winner is known as Spot or Buster, no matter how high-toned his registered name may be. This is hard to believe. In simple decency, where but in the privacy of the home should a dog be called, for example, Tippy Tiu Tocco of Knollcrest? People who will so affront a pet are quite capable of rubbing it in: "Good boy, Blithe Arpeggio of Hobby Ho!" "Fetch the ball, Sharevalpad Call Me Madam!"

Names like those given to Pullman cars are now registered for all breeds. There is a famous Dalmatian named Racing Roadster in the Valley; a Boston terrier, Tootsie Oh Girl; a beagle, To-Bar-To Little Monkey; a basset hound, Siefenjagenheim Lazy Bones; a fox terrier, Welcome Here and Now. The New York Times recently opened a report of an all-breed event in these terms: "Ch. Gay Boy of Geddesburg, a peppy beagle, proved today to his new owners...that they made a wise purchase when they acquired him six weeks ago. Moving with his white-tipped tail pointing straight up, as if to say, 'See, boss, this'll get the attention,' Gay Boy trotted off with the best-in-show award." Gay Boy of Geddesburg is a restrained name compared to most these days, but it still reflects the essential change from the old simplicity and its purpose. There was once a more meaningful relationship between dogs and their masters and mistresses, and the names that the dogs bore reflected it. If Ulysses' dog had been named something like Prince Argo Naughty Boy instead of plain Argus, he wouldn't have recognized Ulysses at all. He would have been in there eating and drinking with the suitors. Probably he would have been strutting around with his tail pointing straight up, as if to say, "See, boss, this'll get the attention."

There was a good reason why dogs names were originally simple: they had to be words that could be yelled loudly and that the dog could understand. Fido, which has now disappeared as a dog's name, was derived from the Latin for faithful, and Ponto came from the Spanish punta (point). Tray is believed to have come from the Spanish trae (fetch). The favorite hunting dog of Cheops, about 5,000 years ago, was named Abakaru, and another Egyptian hunting dog, pictured under the chair of his master and believed to have been a basenji, was named Xalmes. Alexander the Great's favorite dog was Perites. A dog wearing a silver collar was found in the ashes of Herculaneum: his name was Delta. Even the Arabs, who loved horses and hated dogs and never named them, made one exception—a dog named Kitmer, who appears in the Koran and who was admitted to Paradise by special fiat.

In this world or the next, then, all names of dogs were traditionally terse, functional and plain. And so are they now for mongrels and dogs named by children. Janice Paprin, who recently combed through the license applications of the 260,000 licensed dogs in New York City for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, found that Skippy, Lucky and Butch, in that order, are the most popular dog names. The nationwide sampling of a Philadelphia dog-food manufacturer gave Lady and Tiny as the two most popular. Queenie, Lassie, Trixie, Duchess, Brownie, Rusty, Spot, Ginger, Tippy, Rex, Champ, Rocky, Wolf, Ace, Frisky, Sparky, Bullet, Cyclone, Candy, Satan, Minx and Mischief are current favorites among the children-owned mongrel dogs that are licensed.

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