Should I Change My Rescue Dog's Name?

Not in love with the name your rescue dog came with? Find out if changing your dog's name is the right choice.

By | Posted: October 29, 2014, 11 a.m. PST

Unless you’re adopting a very young puppy, your new dog will have a name when you adopt him. Most city shelters have a list of dog names that they rotate for each dog that comes into the door. I know this little publicized fact because I once wrote a story about dog names for Dog Fancy and because I pull homeless dogs from a city shelter, transport dogs, and foster them. 


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Surprisingly, the names are similar across the country: Max, Oreo, Jack, Princess, Precious, Coco, Star, Milo, Simba, Blackie, Shorty, Buddy, Puppy, Lucky, Sasha, Rocky, Champ, Diamond, Queenie, King, Blue, and Lady . . . you get the idea. These are fairly innocuous and generic names in a time when people give their dogs monikers like Ziggy Starpug, Heisenberg, and Miss Bedelia Bragadocious. In Miami, where I pull for a Schnauzer rescue, many of the dogs have Latino names, like Puka (yes, I rescued a Puka and saw other Pukas there subsequently), Negra, Tito, Lulu, Linda and Chico. 


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If the dog you have rescued is a stray, you can be relatively certain that he does not know or respond to the name he was given by the shelter. You can change his name while you’re adopting him so that the new name is on his paperwork. He likely had a name before he found himself homeless, but that name is now lost, so you’ll have to start fresh, which is a good idea, since his former name might be linked to some bad memories for him. 


If the dog is an "owner surrender,” this means that the owner has brought the dog into the shelter personally and has likely told the shelter his name. My Schnauzer, Zoey, was an owner surrender, and a horrible abuse case. I loved the name and kept it, but in retrospect I should have changed her name so that she wouldn’t cower every time I said it. Often, people who should not have dogs will call their dogs to them for a beating. This makes the dog afraid of his own name. 

If the dog you adopt is in foster care via a rescue organization and has been there a while, he may know the name they have given him. If you don’t like the name, change it. This is a dog you are hopefully going to have for many years, and you should feel good about his name. 

I recently rescued a young white Schnauzer that another rescuer had found running around in the rain in a parking lot in Miami. I immediately took her (being a Schnauzer person) and named her Delilah. We tried to find her owner, but no one claimed her. Having three dogs of my own, I decided to foster her until I found the right home for her, which I did after about two weeks. The new home named her Dior, because the new owner wanted a name that started with a "D” so that the dog wouldn’t become too confused. The home didn’t work out because of noise sensitive neighbors who complained about the dog, so I took her back and started calling her Delilah again. My parents wanted her, so now she’s Dior Delilah, or DD. She responds to all three names. Sometimes she responds to "Devil Dog,” a name she has earned (it’s a good thing for her that she’s very cute). Dogs are extremely adaptable, and whether they come when called (or not) largely depends on tone of voice. 

Contrary to what you might read about "properly” naming dogs, you can name your rescue dog anything you want, even if it’s a long and complex name, because you will end up shortening it and giving him a nickname anyway. Years ago I may have recommended choosing a one or two syllable name with a sharp sound in it, such as Jake, Roxy, or Pepper, but now I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter because most people are bound to come up with a short "pet” name for their dog. My rescued Poodle Jasmine (who came with that name from her prior owners) is often called Jaz and Jazzy. 

I would recommend giving your new dog a name (or nickname) that people can respect, that’s cute, or that represents something fairly wholesome. Naming your Pit Bull "Killer” or your Pointer "Stupid” (I actually knew a Pointer named Stupid) will only bring grief for your dog. Ironic names can be cute, though—a Chihuahua named Killer will make people smile. 

When you’re starting from scratch with a new name, simply start calling your dog that name and encouraging him to come to you by patting your legs and offering treats. It shouldn’t take more than a few days for him to understand that he’s now called "Charlie.”

If your dog already has a name that he knows, how about choosing a name that begins with the first letter or sound? Naming him something similar will help him to adjust to the new name. Treats don’t hurt either. 

I can’t get out of this post without quoting Shakespeare: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Your dog will still be his lovely self, no matter what you name him. How about Romeo? 

Did you change your dog's name? Tell us in the comments below.


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Nancy   ChAska, Minnesota

3/8/2015 8:26:16 AM

Have has five rescues over the years. Two we keep the names that they were given by former owners the others were renamed. The newest rescue was a neglected young yorkie who the rescue called Clooney. Which we canged ASAP to Killian. He took to that name day one.

So now we have three rescues (jack Russell/ basenji the other two) and one shop dog maltese who's the queen of them all. Love our fur kids!

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Stephanie   Lake Havasu City, Arizona

3/7/2015 8:31:37 AM

We changed our dog's name to Kimba. Kimba was transferred from another Shelter to our local Shelter where we adopted her from. Her name had been Critter from the woman that turned her in and then she was called Lady when she transferred here which had only been a couple of days before we rescued her. We didn't like Critter at all and Lady, definitely too generic!

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Ceydi's Mom   Troutdale, OR

12/12/2014 7:28:01 PM

Ceydi came with her name; I just changed the spelling of it. Turned out when the vet searched for the microchip that her name had been "Sadie" for many years, through several owners. Tobi also came with her name but as a chocolate Lab mix I told folks it was short for Toblerone. Dobby I got on a train platform when he was six months old - "How cute!" "Do you want him? He's free!" He'd been named Hercules but didn't know it, and I'm a firm believer in a one easy syllable name, so "Herk" wasn't that appealing. Dobby came from the Harry Potter House Elf character, who Dobby the Chug resembles, plus it sounds like Doggie which I could use to call both dogs (unless I have to specify the one that's misbehaving, as otherwise he'll look at me as if to say, "Can't mean me, must mean the other one" and continue with whatever he shouldn't be doing.) Dobs, Dobson and, unless there's Brits around, Dobbers. Apparently that means something not-so-nice in Scotland!

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Dennis   San Leandro, California

11/19/2014 3:10:34 PM

The shelter had named my dog Emil, but as he was dropped at the night drop-off they had no idea what his name had been. He was a Chow-Shepherd mix so far as anyone could tell. Not liking Emil, I picked Ruffian, which soon became Ruff (a name other dogs could pronounce) or Mr. Ruff. Not to be outdone by pedigreed dogs, I told people his title was Sir Ruffian of Underfoot, Chaser of Cats, Slayer of Dragons, otherwise known as Ruff. The "underfoot" and "chaser" names were earned, and the "slayer" was obvious from the lack of dragons hereabouts.

He was responding to the name within a day or two, but was already about 1-1/2 years old, so was already a smart, mature dog -- "New name? No sweat!" I had him for a bit over 11 years, which I guess is a pretty good run for a 50 lb dog. He had what the vet believed was either a stroke or a brain tumor and went quickly after that. Best dog

"If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." -- Will Rogers

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