Monday, February 26, 2024

Derek the dog and Neil the cat — why pets with human names are so funny

What’s not to love about an animal with a human name, asks Rebecca Armstrong

My mother has a pet West Highland terrier called Daisy – and there are at least two other Daisies in the neighbourhood: an even smaller and fluffier white puppy and a whopping great Alsatian. Call “Daisy” in the local park and you never quite know which will turn up. It’s not that surprising, given that Daisy is one of the country’s most popular names for puppies, having been in the top 10 for more than five years.

Jeremy Paxman, dogfather to Derek, a spaniel-Dalmatian mix, and a former resident of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, has a different issue when he summons his pet. “I thought I could be reasonably sure that when he was called in the park he would be the only creature to respond,” Paxman explained when he appeared on the celebrity version of the Great British Bake Off. Well, yes and no – apparently he has attracted the attention of “a few men in ancient tweed jackets”.

Some names are funnier than others when applied to dogs, like people’s names. Of course, other popular monikers for pups –Charlie, Bella, Max, Lucy – are also human names (I have siblings called Max and Lucy), but they’re not grown-up names. They don’t make you think of accountants or aunties, insurance brokers or middle managers.

Nigel, the TV presenter Monty Don’s dashing golden retriever, is a case in point. Surely in between chasing squirrels and charming TV audiences, Nigel enjoys a few rounds of golf and drives a Mondeo. And Jennifer Aniston’s late canine companion was called Norman. I always imagined him propping up a bar, drinking Bud Light.

A dog named Janet

It’s not just celebrities who give their pets these names. On Sunday, at a birthday party for three basset hounds (the three that shared the birthday – there were 15 bassets in all), I met Janet. The dog.

Enquiries on Twitter revealed a rich seam of stories and revealed that cats, too, often have human names. “Our old neighbours used to have a cat called Derek. It was a girl. When asked, the neighbour just said: ‘I always wanted a cat called Derek’,” one reply read.

Other responses included: “My brother has Dave, the cat. Mum and Dad call it ‘Baby David’ like in The Royle Family.”

“Albert. He is a 13-year-old rescue cat who lived for many years on the streets of Manchester. There are lots of places in Manchester with the name ‘Albert’ in it (Albert’s Square, Albert’s Chop House to name just a few) so the name seemed very fitting.”

Another wrote: “I have a cat called Nigel and he is the most Nigel-looking cat around.”

‘We called the cat Adrian’

“I have three cats. Doris, Gary and Roger. (I also have a hamster called Dave) .”

“Jack. The dog. Son of Dave and Fiona.”

And: “We were told over the phone that the cat we rescued had FIV (feline Aids) and had to be put down… but turns out the receptionist mixed him up with another cat they’d had in that day. We called him Adrian.”

But a chicken outdid them all. “I wanted to name her Zarg the Destroyer, Eater of Worlds. I was told she had to have a proper name.

“So she is now known as Mabel the Destroyer, Eater of Worms.”