What’s In A (Dog’s) Name? by
(119 Stories)

Prompted By Naming Pets

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One of my favorite anecdotes —  I wish it were my own, but it was told to me years ago by someone else — is about a dog’s name. And I have no idea if it is apocryphal or not.  In any event, per the teller of the anecdote to me, he had a friend who recently had gotten a dog.  “What’s his name?” asked the teller to his friend.   “Oedipus,” replied the friend.   “Why would you ever name a dog Oedipus?” then asked the teller.  “It’s simple,” replied his friend.  “When he’s good, we call him Rex.  And when he’s bad, we call him motherf*cker.”

My own dog’s names have been far more prosaic.  In fact, my first dog’s name wasn’t simply prosaic, it was generic. When I was one, my parents got us a dog, a lovely Collie.  Inexplicably, they allowed my brother Tom, who was all of three, to name the dog.  My parents asked him what he would like to call the Collie, and he simply — and age-appropriately —  replied “Collie.” For whatever (dumb) reason, they allowed that name to stick and for years, as we and Collie grew older, we had to explain that our Collie’s name was Collie.  It almost became a “Who’s On First?” routine.

Here’s an early Christmas card photo of Tom, Collie and me (that’s Collie in the middle):


After many years, Collie went off in the woods and never came back, as very old dogs in the country are wont to do.  So my mother soon afterwards got us a new dog, a Newfoundland/German Shepard mix puppy that she had heard about from friends.  At this point, Tom and I were old enough to envision slightly more creative names. Slightly. When I first tried to think of a name, I thought out loud, “Um….”  and could come up with nothing.  So I suggested just naming the dog “Um.”  Tom came up with the very odd, but somewhat more creative, suggestion of “Louvery,” inspired by a weird character that the comedian Ernie Kovacs played on his TV show.  We then compromised on the conflationary name of “Lum,” and that stuck.

Actually, Lum ended up being an ideal, almost onomonopoetical, name, as Lum was a great big, lum-bering, lummox-y sort.  In fact, Lum once accidentally broke the leg of a neighboring little dog when they were happily playing together and, not realizing his own strength, Lum landed on his playmate with his full 140 pound weight.

Unfortunately, neither I nor Tom have any pictures of Lum anymore, but these are the two breeds from which he sprung:

Lum died when I was in college and my mother subsequently had two other dogs named Clancy (an Irish Setter) and then Sandy (a Border Collie).  Fairly prosaic ethnic stereotype names, in my humble opinion.  But these were really my mother’s dogs, so neither Tom nor I had any part in their naming.  And, for all I know, they already had those names when my mother “adopted” them.

Fast forward two generations of humans, as I have been dogless in adulthood.  (Is that like sleepless in Seattle?)  Two years ago, my older daughter decided that, husbands and children be damned, she was getting herself a dog.  After much research — particularly as to dogs well suited for small New York apartments — she settled on a Welsh Corgi. She got to name the dog herself and chose Toby, after any number of characters she liked in books she’d read (though not Sir Toby Belch). I have since learned that Toby is now a very popular dog name, sort of like Max and Sam are for boys these days.

Of course, like any proud grandfather, I have a million pictures of my granddog Toby.  And last year for my birthday, my daughters sent me a jigsaw puzzle of Toby in a very formal — and obviously photoshopped — pose and attire, complete with tuxedo and bow tie.  I have now completed the puzzle, sealed it with clear paste and suitably framed and mounted it in our basement:


I also asked my older daughter if, consistent with his formal portrait, Toby had a more formal name.  “Oh yes,” she replied.  “Sir Tobias McGillicudy Shutkin.”  Well, then.  Anyhow, you can see the Sir Tobias nameplate I made hanging above his portrait.

And now my younger daughter, Toby’s smitten “aunt,” has announced that she, too, hopes to soon get her own dog.  She has confirmed her intention to do so by recently moving into a more pet-friendly apartment building.  If she asks me for a suggestion for her dog’s name, I intend to propose “Oedipus.”

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    John, your opening anecdote is hysterical! A good way to start the morning. As for your and your brother’s dog-naming skills, they are very cute for little kids. How quaint to call your Collie “Collie”. Did that ever confuse anyone in your neighborhood? Lovely photo on the Christmas card.

    I feel like we’ve heard about Lum in other earlier stories. He sounds like a big, fun dog, if not the brightest of pets. And Lum does sound like an apt name for him.

    I love the very formal shot of Toby in your framed puzzle in full tuxedo and title. He belongs across the pond with his cousins in the Queen’s brood. I’m sure he is great company for your daughter when she comes home (or during this time of COVID; has been home).

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so much, Betsy, though I fear you are too kind as to my brother’s and my dog-naming skills. And, again, I was unfortunately not the genius who thought of “Oedipus.”

      And yes, I have written of Lum before. As for Toby, he is a great dog but the formal shot belies his true nature. Particularly when he is sniffing other dogs’ butts, as my daughter is quick to point out.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Your story about Oedipus Rex is a riot! One of my daughter’s dogs is also called a**hole at times, but I decided to skip that nickname. I love the puzzle picture of Toby in his tux. So regal. This story really made me laugh. Thanks for that, John.

  3. John, just claim the Oedipus joke as your own. Comedians steal material right and left without credit; why should they have all the fun? And I love the primalness of “Collie”. Why not? Growing up we had a neighbor down the block a ways who called his dog “Dog”. He was a psychiatrist and he joked that he just wanted to be sure the dog developed no identity problems. Good story.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Great read and lots of laughs–thanks! All our dogs have have multiple names/nicknames, but nothing as creative as Oedipus. In our families there are more grand-dogs than grand-children, and this is the new normal. And lots of fun. Sister-in-law Jeanne has numberless dogs on her goat farm in rural Minnesota, and I can’t wait to visit when we can ever travel and cross the border without quarantine again.

  5. Marian says:

    Nice story, John, and although I don’t know a dog named Toby, I do know a cat with that name, who I like a lot. I’m trying to envision a Newfie-German shepherd mix, but can understand why Lum might not have been the brightest bulb. I had a client who had three Newfies–a mellow female named Sister, a pup named Sailor, and a huge male named Solo. Solo was the gentlest of all creatures, but he had a habit of rearing up on his hind legs to a 6-foot-plus height, and from my peripheral vision, he looked like King Kong. My client never had to lock his house.

  6. Suzy says:

    I enjoyed reading this even though I’m not a dog person. I think Collie is a great name for a dog, especially if the dog happens to be a Collie, but even if not. We’ve heard about Lum the gentle giant before. Interesting that after your dog-filled childhood you never had another dog. But now your daughter has given you a grand-dog, so I guess you’ve come full circle.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. And, in fact, the thought has occurred to my (twisted) mind more than once to name a non-Collie “Collie” just to confuse people.

      And we are sorely tempted at times to get a dog, as we live in a pretty dog-friendly community. Perhaps post-COVID this will actually happen. And, of course, I already have a name picked out.

  7. Bravo John, love your shaggy dog tales!
    Collie seems a perfect name for a collie, what we librarians call a descriptive title.

    My cousin named her white cat White Cat. Altho, as I’ve commented else, naming cats is rather unnecessary. Altho I recently read that animal scientists have determined that cats do in fact know their names, as we cat owners know, cats invariably chose to ignore you when you call them – unless they hear the can opener.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Dana. But I think you give my brother too much credit. Your cousin, I assume, gave the name with a certain sense of irony. (And I’ve heard the same thing about cats knowing/ignoring their names.)

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    When I was very small, I truly thought that my Aunt’s collie was named Son Of A Bitch.

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