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What's wrong with good old Fido and Spot?

| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2002

At the other end of our street, in separate houses that face each other, live two separate dogs. They are nondescript mixed breeds of the large, oafish variety, and their names are Cooper and Grace.

In my house, in bedrooms that face each other, sleep two separate children. They are well-bred individuals of the small, impish variety. Their names are Cooper and Grace.

I now run the risk of walking into my front yard, calling one of my children's names, and being greeted by a galloping, slobbering furball. Yes, my children gallop and slobber, often at the same time, but they are not furry. And therein lies the problem. If I wanted my children's names to evoke domestic canines, I would have named them Fido and Princess.

We need a law to prevent this sort of thing.

Since when do we give our pets people names• Recently, I read that pet owners have abandoned traditional dog and cat names such as Spot and Fluffy in favor of traditional human names such as Barbara and George. A current survey shows that Samantha and Max are among the most-used pet names. Life must not be easy for my teen-age nephew, Max. If we Americans ever start naming our pets Sarah, Jessica and Alex, confusion will overtake many suburban neighborhoods.

What's wrong with Fido, anyway• When I was growing up we didn't have these problems because dogs knew they were dogs. A dog spent his day barking out back; if there was ever any doubt about his place in the world, he needed only to look at the name on his food bowl. Peppy is not a human being. Peppy, like Mugsy and Bandit and Spot, is a dog.

Pets have moved up in the world since then. Along with their human names, dogs now have human perks and trappings, like health insurance, play groups, psychological therapy and Pilates training. Our dog is about to check into a clinic for some expensive elective dental work. I'm debating whether to go the extra $500 for the laser whitening. She may need some therapy to get over her nerves.

Our dog's name is Clementine. Yes, it is a human name. But when we adopted the dog, we thought Clementine fell into the category of seldom-used human names, like Waldo and Arlo and Milo, which are fair game. On the dog-person name continuum, Clementine falls more into the Queenie column than, say, the Abby column.

A dog named Abby lives next door. Abby came to the family after the death of their previous dog, the more appropriately named Taffy. The dogs over there are on an anthropomorphic pet-name trajectory that may eventually lead to a large, hairy next-door mutt named Mary Elizabeth. Mary Elizabeth is my given Christian name.

It's a nightmare scenario, but it's bound to happen. Among my friends, there are pets named Martha, Travis, Samantha, Michael, Vince, Jessie and Edward. I also know human beings with each of those names. How must they feel• (I guess the other side of it would be, how must the pets feel?)

If I were a dog, I would want my name to be literal and descriptive.

Like Lovely or Moonpie, or Precious. Of course, I know a little girl named Precious, so the problem can cut the other way.

Whatever, I don't see the need for naming a dog Grace or Cooper. I'm fairly certain we thought of the names first. And anyway, why'd they have to pick this street to live on•

I want things to be like they were when I was a kid. The men were men and the dogs were dogs, and you never had to worry that if you named your kid Grace, a dog named Grace might move in down the street.

When I was a kid, people named their dogs Cottonballs and Lumpy. And the dogs liked it.

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