Specifically, I am considering the naming of pets.  It occurred to me that I had never met a cat called “John”, or “Alice”.  I’ve met a dog called “George”, but most of the pets I’ve met are called more exotic things, like “Juanita” or “Rover”.

Why is that?  Do we have a bias against naming pets with human names?  If so, it doesn’t extend to cattle, who are quite often called “Bessie”, and goats, called “Billy”.

Names are self-reinforcing through the generations.  Having a grandfather called Jack makes it more likely that you will call your son Jack, and knowing that countless generations have called their Sheepdog “Shep” makes it more likely that you will call your dog that, or something similar.  It just sounds right.

Interestingly, a quick internet search revealed that people have actually researched this and discovered the opposite.  In the 50s and 60s cats and dogs were all called “Blackie” and “Spot”, but in the past few years pet names have been mostly the same as those for human children – “Max”, “Oscar”, “Chloe”, “Bella” and so on.  The authors speculate that as people have fewer children their pets become more important to them, almost substitute children.  I’d like to put forth a different argument – as people have fewer children, there is less chance of children naming the animals!

Of course, some people like to have more imagination when naming their pets.  One of my old housemates had rats called “Sin” and “Pasta” (short for Yersinia pestis and Pasteurella multocida).  My husband wants to call our cats (when we get them) “Pyewacket” and “Balsamic” (because it won’t be a tom cat, so “Vinegar Tom” won’t work).  He also suggested “Apatosaurus” (because “Pat the Cat” sounds fun), or “Alley”, short for “Allosaurus” (because they have sharp teeth and are kind of tabby coloured).

How much thought do you put into naming people or animals in your books?  Do you try to stick to your own culture or do you deliberately pick odd names to give a sense that the people are somehow alien?  What if the animals are main characters?  Does it change the type of name they get?