Archive for August 2012

A horse by any other name

Game on Dude

There’s a racehorse, currently running in major competitions, with the name “Game On Dude.” I’m not kidding.

But the horse, ridden by jockey Chantal Sutherland, has a rather tame moniker by conventional horse-naming standards. A quick Internet search – which yields nothing but the truth, every time – reveals the names of horses currently active in the racing circuit: Breakwind, Homewrecker, Nag Nag Nag, Tabasco Cat, Hello Newman, Let’s Elope, Your Place Or Mine, Aphrodesiac, and Rambling Willie, just to name a few.

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It can be argued, anecdotally, that horses understand shame. Good thing they don’t also understand English.

When it comes to animal names, horses belong in a special category. The same Internet search reveals little about the history of horse-naming, which is a shame, because I feel it would be enlightening – nay, revelatory – to understand why cats and dogs often get saddled with the standard “Whiskers” and “Buttons,” while a prize stallion can command such arresting titles as “Salmon Leap” and “Shower Scene.” (Both real horses, by the way.)

Standard pet names, while far less embarassing for the animal, are also far less adventurous. My family had several pets when I was growing up, and perhaps the most creatively named was a tiny Shih Tzu dog named Cujo, after the rabid St. Bernard in the like-titled Stephen King novel. Cute, I suppose, to name a miniscule yapper dog after a big, menacing killer canine, but still no great shakes compared to, say, “Stevie Wonderboy.”

So why are horse names so unique? One reason may be that prize racehorses are much more rare than a housecat or dog, and demand something with an extra dose of creative energy. It also makes the horse stand out on a race card; “Alphabet Soup” is more eye-catching than “Tim,” athough, considering most race cards look like a list of discarded names for ska bands, Tim might be a standout.

Still, it seems unfair that horse owners get to have all the fun. Giving a dog a racehorse name may complicate matters when calling it from across the street, but it would almost be worth it for the hilarity of seeing someone screaming, “Odor In The Court! Odor In The Court!” to a confused-looking terrier.

Cats? Well, cats are easy. They don’t respond to their names anyway, so one could conceivably give them a name culled from a flowery passage in “Great Expectations.” Wouldn’t it be rad to have your fingers licked by the sandpaper tongue of Miss Havisham’s Wedding Dress? Or rub the belly of The Convict Abel Magwitch?

And there’s no need to end there. The Pied Pipers among us, those with veritable zoos of caged animals in their homes, could have a field day. Think about it: A guineau pig named Your Mama’s So Fat. A parrot named Captain Jack’s Rum. I’m Your Venus, the lovable mouse. I’d suggest buying four turtles and naming them after Renaissance painters, but that would probably just open you up to copyright infringement.

Point being, horse breeders and jockeys have had a monopoly on creative animal-naming for far too long. They’re ridiculous and giggle-inducing and astoundingly impractical, but unless your pet is a chimpanzee fluent in sign language, you’re probably safe.

Don’t get me wrong – Snowball is a perfectly cute name for a poodle. Any cat called Mittens will not be immune to my chin-scratching fingers. Call your bulldog Buster, if you absolutely have to.

But a pet name, moreso than a baby name, is an opportunity for creative writing. Human children need practical names that won’t result in the backs of their necks being pelted with spitballs. But for a caged rat, Hobo’s Gunny Sack isn’t out of the question.

Think about it the next time you’re at a pet store looking at parakeets and tropical fish. Let Game On Dude be your inspiration: If it’s good enough for a horse, consider what it could do for a gerbil.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune, and wishes he had a dog named Heavy Metal Guitar.