People names, nicknames or silly names: What’s best when naming your pet pal?

Tofu (A502767)

Tofu (A502767) is a 4-year-old sweet boy who loves back scratches! Tofu has the cutest tail and body wag when he’s happy and will even put his head in your lap to ask for more petting.

What’s in a name? Deciding what to call your pet can be an exciting opportunity or a daunting task, depending on how you look at it. How do you pick a name that both encapsulates their personality and brings you joy?

There are as many pet naming philosophies as there are pet owners. Some pets are given “human” names — like Betty, Roger or Mimi. Others are named after celebrities or fictional characters like Queen B, Styles or Peppermint Patty.

Many pet parents take a different route. They may name their furry friends after their favorite foods — like Papaya, Tofu or Truffles — or go with a nature-themed moniker like Bloom, Fawn or Luna.

Mimi (A501195)

Mimi (A501195), a one-year-old is an active dog who loves to play and has lots of wiggly puppy energy. She’s very smart and can solve a treat puzzle in minutes! 

My own dog, like me, goes by a nickname. I was named Claudia after my grandmother. When I was a baby, one of my older sisters decided to call me Dia for short, and the name stuck. When Susie, our kennel manager at the Virginia Beach SPCA, saw me falling in love with a puppy who had been named after her, she encouraged me to adopt, but only if I changed the name. That’s how my Susie became Sueshi.

While dogs may not understand the concept of their name in the human sense, there is plenty of evidence that dogs respond to the name given to them by their owners. A fascinating study from the University of Maryland found that dogs could even recognize their name when called over a loudspeaker by a stranger in a noisy room.

Now for the fun part. Start with a list of potential names. Say them out loud. You’ll quickly get a sense of what feels natural and jibes with your pet’s personality. You’ll likely need to train your dog to their new name, which you can do with lots of positive reinforcement and treats.

Betty (A443007) is an 8-year-old with a joyful spirit and can often be seen running around our play yard with a wagging tail. This happy girl is an active dog who loves to play fetch and tug-of-war. She also enjoys learning lots of new things.

Experts recommend short, punchy, one or two-syllable names over slow and long ones. Words with hard consonant sounds are easier for dogs to pick up. Avoid names that are close to common training cues like sit, stay and come or words you regularly use like yes or no.

If your adopted dog already has a name, it’s fine to change it in most cases. Stray pets were likely named at the shelter and may not even know their shelter name when you adopt them.

If you’re feeling guilty about changing your new pet’s name, think of all the nicknames our pets eagerly respond to. Not to mention that the average dog understands between 150 to 200 words, with some amazingly intelligent dogs learning more than 1,000 words.

You may be thinking that only dogs respond to their names, but research shows that cats also react to hearing their names being called by their owners and strangers. And more than that, cats may be able to identify the names of their fellow feline and human housemates.

If all this talk of naming a new pet has you excited, it might be time to consider adopting. All the pet names listed above (except for Sueshi) are big dogs currently available for adoption at Pasadena Humane.

Now through June 30, we are celebrating Big Dog Summer with $50 adoptions for all dogs 40-pounds or more, a $100 savings off our regular fee. View adoptable pets and make an adoption appointment at

Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane.

This blog post originally appeared as a column in the Pasadena Star-News on June 10, 2022.