In a name

A gentle repost today from the  Summer holidays 2010…

What’s in a name? One could get in very deep, very fast here. Let me help you back to shore: I am talking about the names we give our animals.

This is not to belittle our non-human friends and their names. Humans through the ages have named and loved some very definite personalities, which just happened to be packaged with four legs, not two.

Try the tortoise that Florence Nightingale allowed to frequent the wards of her Turkish hospital in the Crimean War. He was named Jimmy: a name which, while being an incongruous name for such an exotic shell-dweller, conjured up vividly the green fields and the haphazard streets of home for the soldier-occupiers of the establishment. The very name is like a cheery light in a darkened window.

The only cat to win the Dickin medal was called Simon, a name with the same comforting overtones. While he slept in the Captain’s cabin of a Royal Navy Sloop, during the Yangtze incident of 1949, enemy fire hit the ship and seriously injured the black-and-white moggie.

He fought back to health and rid the ship of rats. But most importantly, Simon did wonders for the morale of the soldiers, who sailed up that river far from home, on the brink of life and death.

Thomas Hardy chose the name Wessex for his dog, reflecting his overwhelming love for the fictional county which he loved and which formed the backdrop for many of his novels. It is thought, broadly, to be Dorset, but who has a dog named Dorset?

Wessex the dog was less accommodating than the wide open plains after which he was named. A postman once had to relieve him of two teeth because the dog was not keen to part his incisors from the postman’s leg.

President Bush chose Barney, and President Clinton chose Buddy. What does that say about them, I wonder?

We didn’t choose our dog’s name. We saw him, fell under the spell of his cartoonish charm, and were told his name was Macaulay.

Not even close to what we would have called him. Phil wanted to call him Mike Harrison . We loved the idea of a dog walking around with a grown man’s name. Especially this dog. The whole thing would have been a day-to-day contradiction. Hilarious, as far as we were concerned.

But we never got the chance to find out what it would be like. We didn’t think it would be fair. I have had experience of owners changing names to suit themselves.

An ex of mine lived in an idyllic Elizabethan manor house. Next door lived a little old lady with two west highland terriers, highly idiosyncratic little dogs named Jeannie and Clara.

As is wont to happen with little old ladies, the feisty snowstorms proved a little too energetic for her, and Jeannie and Clara came to live in this idyllic Bridesheadian setting.

My then boyfriend’s mother was a lady who knew her own mind and was not altogether worried about anyone else’s. So she renamed the two dogs in the best tradition of Laura Ashley: Rosie and Posie.

Trouble was, those little white wolves in sheeps’ clothing didn’t know they were being called any more. The Manor House Matriarch could call until she was hoarse and blue in the face, but the dogs would simply continue digging up the vegetables.

The last I heard, the up-beat youngest daughter of the family had devised a cunning plan, a compromise.

“Rosie-Clara!” she would call in the most perfect soprano you could imagine. “Posie-Jeannie!”

I bowed out of that particular stream of consciousness at that stage. I will never know whether the dogs did indeed adapt, in true Darwinian fashion, to their name change.

So: Macaulay has stayed Macaulay. Felix’s toddler palate shortened it to Caulay. Some of the mutt’s harem of dog walkers use a very familiar ‘Mac’. Me, it depends what mood I’m in. ‘Mad Dog Shrewsday’ has passed my lips once or twice. And ‘Disreputable biohazard’. I could go on.

But yesterday, I was talking to one of his walkers, who is a great friend. And over the tea and shortbread, she said: “You should have called him Colin…..”

And the dog pricked up his ears and did the best impression of photo-op attentiveness I have ever seen.

And we realised.

He answers to Colin.

All this time, tolerating a name we didn’t really like, didn’t really think reflected him, and he would have answered to Colin from the start.

We’ve been trying out the name over the last 24 hours. But it feels unutterably alien. This morning Felix, still dressed in his pyjamas, ran up to Caulay. My son was in a high state of excitement about the whole Colin thing:”Colin! Colin!” he piped.

And the dog became exciteable, and wagged his tail, and breathed fishily all over us.

And I thought, is this the beginning of a new reality? Have we crossed the vortex in a time-space continuum to an alternative universe where I own a dog called Colin?

And after a pause, a few seconds of keen observation, Felix went on to comment. “But we’re not going to call him Colin are we? His name is Macaulay.”

My daughter agreed. “Because it’s not really his personality, Colin, is it?”

And that was the end of that.


28 thoughts on “In a name

  1. Barney. Buddy. Beats me. Richard Nixon had an Irish setter named King Timahoe. I don’t know whether Nixon himself chose the name. My favorite presidential name is the cat, Tom Quartz, that belonged to Theodore Roosevelt. That sounds very TR. But I think cats are easier to name than dogs. Cats just tell you what to call them. They give you little choice in the matter.

    1. They are the masters of telepathy….although, I wonder whether my cat, Kit Kat, is completely satisfied with my husband’s interpretation of her wishes. I’m sure she had something darker in mind.

  2. I completely agree with the children, Kate.
    For that dog, “Colin” is way out of line.
    My apologies to any Colin who may be reading this, but
    for a sparky terrier, the name is inappropriate in the extreme.
    Maddy put her finger right on it!! End of that it should be!

    Love Dad

  3. A dog named Colin in an alternate reality? Or, as Dean Koontz might put it, the dog is named Colin in one of all the places we are 🙂

  4. My dogs:

    Tuffy: a 9-pound silky terrier that thinks she can bark at the two boxers next door like she is tougher than they
    Oreo: my sister’s doing, probably having to do with her coloring. She’s probably 7 pounds and is part chihuahua, therefore never shuts up.
    Tiny: abandoned with my sister by a woman afraid of her abusive boyfriend returning from Iraq. He is 10 pounds, old, and likes to lick his feet.

    And if I may say so, Colin is quite the British name!

    1. Yes, it is. Second only to Keith. So: this is the doggie gaggle you will return to when you have finished your trans-American progress. Someone has a knack for naming. Especially Oreo, what a corker. Expect you’re enjoying the peace….in a wistful, this-is-nothing-like-a-doggie-walk kind of way…..

  5. Love this post! We took on a rescue dog 8 years ago, he was around 7 years old at the time. A real scruffy shaggy mutt whose name was Shaggy. I wasn’t keen on the idea of opening the back door and yelling ‘Shaggy’ down the garden everday so I toyed with the idea of changing it to Dougal, I’ve always wanted a dog called Dougal since my Magic Roundabout influenced childhood. However, he completely ignored calls of Dougal, as you would yourself if someone started calling you Sharon or Maureen, so Shaggy it remained. And you know, he completely OWNS that name.

  6. IF I were so inclined, I’d assume you had a pash for Colin Firth, and hence passed this desire on to the dog. Telepathically of course.

    Naming my most recent arrival was a long process. All of the kittens in two litters were to be called after beatles songs.

    I first thought HELP! But in a country known for breakins etc, the idea of me wandering around the complex yelling HELP! would perhaps unsettle the neighbours and bring out the gung-ho types with their guns.

    So she became Paper-Back writer (on her pedigree)

    She quickly developed ‘home names’ Sweetpea (because her baby cat felt like sweetpea petals), squeaky toy because of her funny oft-repeated squeak. But the one that stuck is Nunu. So Nunu she is and responds to.

    I do still refer to her as sweetpea sometimes.

    There is a Danish saying your family may want to consider in thinking of how you call the dog

    “A much loved child has many names”

    1. I love Nunu. And indeed, your idea of using the Beatles names as inspiration.
      In Denmark, then, the dog may be Colin. Here, I am only permitted to holler his new name when no-one else can hear 😀

  7. How delightful for McColin! We have Sparky and Blanca in our house – named by my children but with an odd story. When St. Nick brought them, my husband and I were worried about letting the kids name them. We were worried about having Fluffy and Whitey or something. Secretly, we hoped that they’d name the girl Blanca and when they did, it was really mystical. Sparky really fits this talkative gruff little Westie.

  8. Colin is a camera’s name. (But mine is Caroline)

    I can’t help on dog names… but the cats can be explained.

    Two black and white kittens: what could we call them but Jake and Elwood? Sadly Elwood is no more, so Jake is just one half of the blues brothers.

    1. Two cool dudes…
      I must remember that Colin is a camera’s name. This leads me down an inevitable path: should all objects have names, and if so, which names should be allocated to which objects? I am now writing an exhaustive list of household appliances with my babies’ name book close to hand. I might be some time.

      1. Not all, at all.
        In our household my car is Wolfie and my Camera is Caroline, Cyclo’s is Colin…. and that’s about it really 🙂

        Of course one could go down that path, but it could be quite slippery, so be careful. Immediately the following spring to mind- alliteration seems to be the order of the day.

        Madeleine the Mixer- and her brother Kevin Kenwood.
        Trevor the TV, Monica the Monitor
        Brenda the Blender (of course)
        Ralph the Radio
        Mike the Microwave
        Bert the Bread Maker
        Ivor the Iron

        what did you come up with?

      2. Doris the dresser
        Willie wardrobe
        Trixie the tellie
        SIlas the sofa
        Bartholomew the bed
        Mavis the mirror

        I am having to forcibly remove myself before I disappear down the proverbial pan…

      3. This naming of things could get complicated:

        “In the morning after I had been woken by raucous screaming from Ara and I had thrown her none too genlty across the room, I went into the bathroom. In the half light Miranda reflected grimly – I looked ghastly. Cyclo slept on. I was so tired, but I had to get up. It was my turn.
        In the kitchen I fiddled with Ralph’s knobs and turned him on, just quietly, before putting two slices into Tom’s slots. What else should I eat? A fruit smoothie or a bowl of porridge? I looked at Brenda and at Mike, but I still couldn’t decide which I fancied. I filled Catriona with fresh water and flicked her switch. Maybe just a good strong cup of coffee first?”

  9. I completely agree with your children, your dad, and whoever else… that dog is not a Colin, he’s a Macaulay. Even if I’ve never met him (which btw I’m not entirely convinced of, never mind the logistical impossibility), I know that dog! 😉

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