An Original Name

A brown labradoodleThe year before last, Zilla and I got a puppy. I suffer from allergies; Zilla likes doting, cuddly dogs. We wanted a dog big enough to go with us on runs. One day we saw a mellow, medium sized, non-shedding, adorable pup we both liked lying behind the counter at a bicycle shop.

“What kind of dog is that?” I asked the owner.

“Oh, her?”

We nodded. There was only one dog in the shop.

“She’s half Lab, half poodle.” I’d never heard of such a thing.

The shop owner nodded. “A labradoodle.”


When I was a kid Katie was a popular name. My class had Katie M. Katie K., Katie B. and Katie W., not to mention a Kate and one Catherine with a C and one Katharine with a K.

I like the name Kate. It might be my favorite name ever. But I vowed never to use it. For my child—for my dog–I wanted something unique, original, not the same.

Zilla and I found a Labradoodle breeder, and then a litter, and made a deposit. While we were waiting for our pup we talked about names. The first decision was human name or animal. When I was young our dogs had distinctly dog names, like Bear. Later we inherited and adopted two dogs with bland human names, Maggie and Charlie. One of my sister’s friend’s came over to play and looked at the dogs wide-eyed.

“Those are my parents’ names,” she said. She had long soft dark hair, glasses, and a quiet voice.

She promptly stopped playing with my sister and began yelling rude commands—and laughing—at the dogs.


The closer my husband and I got to getting our puppy the harder we found it to settle on a name. All the names we tried on sounded too stuffy or too silly or just plain wrong for a dog.

“Maybe,” I said, “we just need to meet her.”

Then at a dinner party someone mentioned the runner, Zola Budd.

“Zola,” I said.

My husband nodded. It was the most agreement we had so far.

“How about Zoe?” He asked. “It sounds sweeter.”

“With and e or and umlaut or oo or a y?” I asked. Not that it made any difference. I didn’t know any Zoe (ë, oo or y)’s at all.

And then we got our puppy, and then I did.


While I maintain that our Zoe is uniquely, adorably, sweet, and clever, she is not uniquely named.

I have met four other Zoe’s, who are also Labradoodles, in our neighborhood so far. One is in our Zoe’s dog class, another goes to the same dog park. One is even the same color. My cousin, my aunt informs me, has a Zoe the Labradoodle in another state.

In the first week, I had two women bend down to pet my Zoe, and ask her name.

“Zoe!” I say, proudly.

“Oh,” they say, a little chagrined. “That’s my name too.”

Three other people have stopped, smiled and asked give my Zoe a good pet.

“What a cute pup!” They say, burying their heads in her curls. What’s her name?”

“Zoe,” I said.

They smile deeply. “I used to have a dog called Zoe too.”


The worst time, I was walking Zoe about a week after we brought her home. She waddled—uniquely, adorably—in the grass. An elderly fellow stopped and asked if he could give her a pet. Of course, I said. He kneeled down and spent five whole long minutes rubbing her ears and stroking her tummy. Then he started to look really choked up.

“My wife and I just had to take our old girl in to be put down this morning. She looked just her.”

I nodded.

He slowly pushed himself up and put his hands in his pockets. Then he pulled them out again.

“Look at that, I still have treats. Can I give her one?”

“Of course,” I said.

“What’s your name, little dog?” He asked, as if she just might answer.

“Zoe,” I said.

He gave me the most horrified look.

“Really?” he said, and his eyes started to water.

“Our dog was Zoe too.”

Tears came to his eyes. He stood up quickly and shuffled down the block so fast it was almost a run.


Zilla says, and he might have authority on this, with a name like Zilla, that we should give our child a name that people recognize, that won’t be weird, that people will know how to pronounce, and understand. But I don’t know. I can’t stop thinking of Zoe every time we try out a name for our child.


14 thoughts on “An Original Name

  1. Good luck, Beth! That’s one of the most laborious decisions you’ll have to make in your whole life. Yesterday my daughter told me, “I like the name you chose for me!” She still doesn’t want to pronounce it, but at least she’s warming up to it. She made me feel like, maybe, I didn’t screw up that badly.

  2. Naming our dog was very complicated. He’s a Beagle and that made me think about bagels but then we decided to have a Romanian name so we translated bagel into Romanian which was great except we realized he needed an English name too because people at boarding couldn’t pronounce Covrig. But when we translated his name back into English we realized that Pretzel is a better translation.
    And right now I’m thinking we should change it to Barky.

    1. Hi Sabina,

      Nice to meet you! Funnily enough we recently adopted a second dog–people say we are crazy with a baby on the way, but oh well, whose name is Sparky. But people think we should change it to Barky, probably for the same reason.

  3. Beth, wonderful. Having given our daughter a name we love and that has great meaning for us and that she must spell for everyone and that she must hear people mispronounce on a regular basis, I recognize the importance of this issue. Sometimes, it’s just the right name. Sometimes there’s something in the air and it’s everyone else’s right name too. Sometimes it’s tricky and historical. We almost included “Fuzzy” among our son’s five names on his birth certificate. I’ll write about that one day.

    1. Awe! One name we are thinking of is unusual but just two letters, so it might be easy to pronounce. I hope you write about it soon– I think I need to hear that story.

  4. You can always name your whole family after dog names like my sister. Our first dog was called Obie, then we had Toby and now Tristan. Funnily enough my sisters husbands name is Toby, their son is called Obie and she told me the other day she really liked the name Tristan..

  5. Years ago, my brother brought home a small black kitten and named her Judas. When she was maybe 6 or so, I cat-sat her for a month and learned that she had a different name just for the vet: Parker. Somehow, he felt like the vet would be judgy about the name Judas. As a good little sister, I made sure to mock that weirdness a lot.
    There is also a bulldog on my street named Daphne. That makes me smile every time, but I’m sure an actual Daphne wouldn’t see the humor in it.

    1. So cute. I think it is good to make fun–a little. Growing up, we had a cat named Ed–because he had so much ear hair, like my Great Uncle Ed.

  6. The first dog in my family that I remember was an English Black Lab (BIG!!) and his name was Reever. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard that name again. It’s amazing what the name of an animal can do to some people. Too bad that guy took off after petting your dog for 5 minutes, maybe a little of his dog Zoe’s spirit lies in your Zoe, who knows. Pets are an amazing part of our lives. Until I moved out of my parents home I’d always had at least one dog to run around and spend time with. Anyway, good luck with finding a name for your child 🙂

  7. We offered Sabela a choice of two names, and she picked Lucas. A somewhat funny suggestion would be a canine version of this process—though now with Sparky you will need to have them both agree on one. Tough! 🙂

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