A study by FirstVet of 100 years of American animal records reveals how the nation has named its pets throughout recent history.
Did you know that ‘Princess’ is America’s most popular pet name?
The research team has analyzed over a century of American cat and dog names, in a study of domestic animals buried in the nation’s oldest resting place for pets, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, based in Westchester County, New York.
Looking at over 25,000 Hartsdale names records from 1905 onwards, the team identified the most popular names for cats and dogs over the decades, as well as the cultural trends that may have influenced these naming choices.
115 Years of Animal Names
- Perhaps reflective of a cultural fascination with monarchies and fairy tales, ‘Princess’ is the most popular overall pet name in the U.S. over the last 115 years (with both dogs and cats frequently receiving the name). ‘Princess’ has consistently been in the top-ten most popular dog names since the 1960s, but has never been the number 1 most popular name in any single decade.
- ‘Tiger’ is the most popular cat’s name of the last 115 years. This might be a legacy of the earliest domesticated cats in America being European ‘tabby’ cats, with distinctive tiger-like striped markings (prior to the importation of Asian breeds). The acquisition in 1961 by Disney of licensing rights to Winnie The Pooh (from the estate of English writer A. A. Milne), likely further contributed to the popularity of naming a small cat after its bigger cousin: Tigger being Christopher Robin’s bouncy toy-tiger friend.
The Most Popular Names of Each Decade
Note: Assuming the average dog and cat to have a lifespan of approximately 10 years, the following is based on pets being buried in the decade subsequent to their naming.
The most popular name in each decade for dogs is as follows:
- 1930s: Queenie
- 1940s: Tippy
- 1950s: Sandy
- 1960s: Lady
- 1970s: Brandy
- 1980s: Max
- 1990s: Max
- 2000s: Max
The most popular name in each decade for cats is as follows:
- 1960s: Cindy
- 1970s: Ginger
- 1980s: Tiger
- 1990s: Smokey
- 2000s: Smokey
- The pet name with the highest regnal number (a number denoting that the pet is one in a series of pets with that name) is Virgo XIII.
- The name with the second-highest regnal number is Silvia IV.
In the U.S., which became a republic when it rejected the British monarchy and aristocracy, nobility-related names such as ‘Princess’, ‘Duke’, ‘King’, and ‘Lady’ featured consistently in the top-ten animals names in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
This contrasts with the U.K., a constitutional monarchy, where royal or noble names never featured in the top-ten most popular animal names in the latter half of the 20th century.
‘Princess’ was only the sixth-most popular pet name in the 1970s, but shot to being the most popular pet name in the 1980s, and the second-most popular pet name in the 1990s. This coincides with the rise in popularity of Princess Diana, who visited the U.S. on a royal tour in 1985, during which she famously danced with John Travolta at the White House.
Possible Pop Culture Inspirations
- ‘Max’ was the most popular dog name for three decades in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. This may be partly as a result of the launch of the wildly successful Mad Max film series, the first of which was released in 1979, as well as Russell Crowe’s character Maximus in the movie ‘Gladiator’.
- ‘Smokey’ was the most popular cat name for two consecutive decades, in the 1990s and 2000s, rising from being the 9th most popular cat name in the 1980s. This might be linked with 1977 American road action comedy film, Smokey And The Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds (and its many TV and movie sequels), as well as the enduring popularity of Motown singer William “Smokey” Robinson, who regularly featured in the Top 10 charts throughout the 80s.
- ‘Baby’ appears third in the list of most common names for cats buried in Hartsdale in the 1990s, and remains popular throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, with its famous line ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’.
Note: The above takes culturally significant events from the previous decade as correlating to naming trends, based on the aforementioned average lifespans of pets.