Names in a Dog-Eat-Dog World
September 29, 2011 § 5 Comments
Count Mike Myers’ baby name as a first for me (he and wife Kelly welcomed son Spike two weeks ago). I’ve never met a baby Spike, and until now my only association with the name was on dogs (usually vicious), or as a nickname on Christine “Spike” Nelson from the popular Canadian series Degrassi. In the 1980s, the character (called Spike because of her gelled hair “spikes”) got pregnant at 14. One of the series most loved characters, she returned for the modern reboot which starred her adolescent daughter Emma, which currently airs all over the world. There’s also American film directors Spike Lee (born Shelton) and Spike Jonze (born Adam Spiegel). There was also 20th Century American bandleader Spike Jones (born Lindley), who was known for punctuating his musical numbers with bells, gunshots, whistles, and outlandish vocals. Spike is an English term for “long, heavy nail.” Ouch. It’s also an American football term to describe slamming the ball into the end zone.
Turns out, in 2008, 23 babies were named Spike in England and Wales, so it’s not as brand new as I think. And thanks to Abby at Appellation Mountain for pointing out that Spike rhymes with Mike (how did I miss that??) This might explain it.
We do live in what some would call a dog-eat-dog world, but are we really naming our children after pets, or just popularizing some of the more out there nicknames as given names, since as a culture we’re prone to nicknaming people anyway? (Though it should be noted that Nancy told a story once about her father, who had three family dogs growing up in the 1950s – Baron, Jett, and King. Ironically, these are three of the trendiest names out there right now; not overdone, cool, strong, sophisticated and playful.)
The dog names-for-humans trend has been much discussed over the past few years, but the truth is that each of these names, while traditionally names for dogs with the exception of Princess, has very human (or spiritual, in the case of Lucky) inspiration, and perhaps these names are better categorized as Nickname Names, instead.
Rex Harrison was a 20th Century English star of stage and screen (he starred in My Fair Lady with another heavy name-inspirer, Audrey Hepburn). Noel Coward called him “the greatest interpreter of high comedy in the world.” He was born Reginald Carey Harrison but went by “Rex,” and his marquee status as an actor rooted the name into the public subconscious. It gave a human side to a name that is otherwise animalistic, either as a dog’s name (usually male), or like in tyrannosaurus rex – from the latin tyran (tyrant) + saurus (lizard) and rex, meaning “king.” Rex Reed is an American film critic (he was born with it), and the name has been popping up quite a bit lately, though it’s been on people’s minds for much of the 20th Century. In 1924, American actor Charles Bickford, who welcomed son Rex in 1924, was nominated three times for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Chick lit author Sophie Kinsella welcomed her fourth son in April 2010, naming him Rex William Townley – making use of the double middle names trend that’s hot these days, less than a month after Law & Order creator Dick Wolf welcomed his son Rex. Dick Wolf has a history of naming characters in his shows after his kids, including Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliott Sadler on Special Victims Unit, and there was an ADA Serena Southerlyn on the original series, closely related to his daughter Sarina. Look for possible characters named Zoe or Rex in any upcoming installments, the names of his two youngest children. Back in 2007, former Biggest Loser contestants Matt Hoover and Suzy Preston, who fell in love on the show, welcomed a son named Rex Timothy. (And as Lou at Mer de Noms pointed out today, it’s the name of one of the sons of British TV presenter Alexander Armstrong.)
Buster Keaton was a silent film legend, and his name has provided ample naming inspiration of late. The story goes that Buster, born Joseph Frank (the middle name for his maternal grandfather, who disapproved of his parents marriage), got his nickname from Harry Houdini. His father, Joe Keaton, owned a travelling show with Harry Houdini, and was present one day when Joseph took a tumble. “That was a real buster!” said Houdini, and at eighteen months old, the name stuck. In 2008 British actor Jonny Lee Miller (once the husband of Angelina Jolie), welcomed a son named Buster Timothy, and in April 2010, British soap stars Matthew Wolfenden and Charley Webb welcomed son Buster Lawrence. While Rex is regal, Buster is more mischievous. Derived from the Old English bust, meaning “burst,” the name has a playful side, which perfected it’s place among dogs, and isn’t a bad quality in humans. The named peaked inside the US Top 1000 in 1910 and gradually fell out until 1950, when it took over for pets. This name is experiencing a renaissance along with Rex, and the tides could sway again.
As a name nerd, I chuckled when I found out that Liv Tyler had named her son Milo (popularized, at least in my young mind, by the animals in the ’80s film Milo & Otis), and her dog Neil. We have started giving human names to our pets because they are in fact part of the family, just like humans. And while there no doubt are people whose baby names are inspired by their pets, these names existed long before we used them on our animals. Like Buster, Rex climbed almost to the Top 200 in the early 20th Century, dropping out in 1998 but climbing back in 2003.
Lucky is another dog name with a modern human twist, but the reasons for that are due entirely to it’s virtue. Of English origin, lucky means “fortunate.” In the 1980s, General Hospital supercouple Luke and Laura had a son named Lucky, naming him both for the meaning, and as a nickname for Luke. Jeremy Jackson is a Daytime Emmy winner as the most famous actor to play Lucky Spencer. The impact of Luke and Laura was palpable in the United States – 30 million people watched their wedding in 1981, with an appearance by Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Diana reportedly sent champagne. In the 1980s the name Laura was immensely popular throughout the 1980s, and today Luke/Lucas is a Top 10 name for boys. Comedian Cedric the Entertainer welcomed daughter Lucky Rose in 2003, and rap mogul Damon Dash welcomed a son named Lucky one year later.
Peter Andre and Katie Price, two celebrities known for being in your face, didn’t disappoint when naming their son Junior in 2005, and outdoing themselves in 2007 upon the birth of their daughter – Princess Tiamii Crystal Esther. For a very, very long time thanks to it’s designation as a title for the daughter of the king or queen, common folk have bestowed the pet name upon their beloved daughters. It seemed almost comic that two of the most unroyal celebrities imaginable would give their daughter such a regal given name, but then again why not? Pride in your kids isn’t illegal, if the name does feel egocentric. Though of course not originally a dog’s name, it’s long been a popular one for female dogs. Still, it makes you wonder if there are any little Duchesses in our future (a sometimes-used dog name), thanks to the Duchess of Cambridge. She’s already helping push Kate to new heights, could her title not be far behind?
The band Muse is keenly powering this trend – while frontman Matt Bellamy and actress Kate Hudson welcomed son Bing in July. (Though Bingo was not their inspiration, Bing is a nickname for a decidedly doggie name.) And bassist Chris Wolstenholme has five children – Alfie, Ava-Jo, Frankie, Ernie, and Buster, who was born November 2010.
And what about cats? The phrase that bears this nickname, “Go get ’em, tiger,” is basically a cliche these days, but until his personal life spectacularly unraveled and his golf game took a nosedive, Tiger Woods was pretty popular inspiration. The name is of course more synonymous with the jungle cat, often found on housecats with orange colouring, and parents feel about it the way they feel about Bear: you either love it, or you loathe it. Michael Hutchence’s daughter Heavenly Hiraani Tigerlily, born 1996, goes by Tiger. French actress Lou Doillon welcomed son Marlow Jack Tiger in 2002. Queen drummer Roger Taylor and his Asian wife Debbie Leng (where tigers are an important part of the history and culture), had a son named Rufus Tiger in 1991, and a daughter Tiger-Lily in 1994. Tiger Lily was the name of the beautiful Indian princess in the stories of Peter Pan by British author J.M. Barrie, a play on Native American naming traditions that are often rooted in animals and nature (like Chiefs Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, or Crazy Horse). In 2009, former All Saints member Shaznay Lewis had a daughter named Tigerlily, too. 20th Century English comic actor Terry-Thomas’ son Timothy, born 1962, goes by Tiger.
My advice? Well, as Nancy pointed out, as we use more and more human names for our pets, those unused pet names must turn up somewhere. And what interesting pedigrees these names have! They won’t be for everyone, and are easy targets on the playground if you’re concerned with such things, but really all we’re doing is taking nicknames we’ve had for decades and putting them directly on our kids’ birth certificates. When these names dropped in popularity over the last 100 years, we picked them up for our pets, and now thanks to their overuse for pets we’re choosing human names instead. If pets are part of our family as children are, and it’s perfectly acceptable to name a dog Madison, why should we ignore Buster’s wonderful qualities and say it’s weird the other way around? But, I’m still not sold on Spike. Feels overly violent and potentially grotesque, and that’s a pet peeve of mine in the naming world.
Any ‘pet names’ you’ve seen on babies that you can’t believe?