Give a dog a bad name…

BC Pires
BC Pires


ONCE A DOG has learned to suck eggs, you have to shoot him, they say in Alabama, an aphorism I’ve always loved, because you can almost hear the banjos playing.

But, as canine-based pithy truths go, I’ve always preferred, “Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him.” Besmirch someone’s reputation and, figuratively, you’ve destroyed the person.

But I’m playing with the aphorism’s literal meaning now.

We have a new rescue dog. He came to us as a jumpy little guy, not quite knee-high, who’d been hopping out of the cane fields, overturning a garbage bin, and disappearing back into the cane. Even after my wife let him into the yard, where the fence calmed him, he would not come to me. (I suspected the usual male human abuser in his background.)

His face suggested – no, demanded – the name Chewbacca, the wolflike pilot of Han Solo’s craft in Star Wars, but we knew better than to include the word “chew” in the name of a young dog. Name-vibes really work, and they can work for or against you. Call your rottweiler “Killer” and you’ll be burying your neighbour’s pompeks. Let your Wizard of Oz-loving toddler name a male dog Toto and he’ll never stop humping your leg.

One pet we called “Scaredy Cat,” because she used to run away as soon as a human approached; we changed her name to “Friendly Cat” and she started rubbing on our ankles. No lie.

Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him. Give a dog a good name and you’ll have someone you can hang with forever.

Experience has taught me, though, that you must resist the temptation to give pets jokey names for your own amusement. I’ve named puppies from the same litters: Kinky and Stinky; Tom, Dick and Harry; and, in a particularly blinding flash of inspiration, a litter of four pups One, Two, Three and Four. (And here’s one for the Bruce Springsteen fans: when I called out their names loudly at feeding time – One! Two! Three! Four! – it was impossible not to sing, right after, “This highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.”) Again, when the vet sent his yearly postcard, where he wrote in the pet names on a dotted line, the postman and I always giggled to read, “Please bring Drugs and Alcohol to Dr Jones.”

Unfailingly, though, when you give two or more pets comic names, one of them always dies and ruins the joke. Kinky and Stinky became just Stinky. Dick ran away, leaving us with every Tom and Harry. And, of course, it would be Two who snuffed it. (Dr Jones did continue his Drugs habit even after there was no longer an Alcohol to carry to him.)

I suggested cutting the “Chew” off of Chewbacca and calling the new dog simply, “Bacca.” No dice. My wife, an India-trained yoga teacher, with hands joined in prayer fashion and a bobbing head, countered with the title of “Babba-ji.” No dice.

I, the man who named feline pets Cat Stevens, Fidel Cats-tro, Tom Sawyer (Huck Finn died, of course), Geoff Boy-Cat and Miaow-Tse-Tung, refused to concede defeat.

What about Dog Stevens? No dice. Iggy Pup? No dice. Mickey Mouse? No mice. Doggone? Tempting Providence too strongly. Abel from the Cane? Too biblical. Canine Abel? Waxing too lyrical. Wh’appening Dog? Too strained. Dog Star? Would cause trouble in the ranks. Doggerel, Dogger-M, Dogger-N? We need three for that, BC. Dogma? Too strained. Dogmatic? Put away the dictionary, BC.

A month into his full-time residence, his name still had not fully settled. Because of his initial paranoia and his ability to jump, grasshopper-like, several times his height, my wife and the children finally agreed on Spranger, a name I resisted until this week, because what Trinis call sprangers are called, in Barbados, paros. I couldn’t make the Spranger connection.

And then, this week, Bunny Wailer, who gave his own name to Bob Marley and the Wailers, died. And reminded me of a great Trinidadian, now also joined by his brother, who might both be MCing (perhaps severally but certainly jointly), the reggae tent where the reunited Wailers may be singing tonight.

Spranger will do. Short, for me, for Sprangalang.

BC Pires is doing the work of a damned lexicographer


"Give a dog a bad name…"

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