Unique Pet Names With International Flair

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog names

Story at-a-glance -

  • Traditional names like Max for dogs have always been popular, but recently more names for pets reflect exotic words, experiences and places that are significant only to the owner
  • One example of a significant dog name is Paloma, Spanish for dove, after the dog’s owner returned from a trip where he studied birds in Peru
  • Japanese names for dogs might include Aiko, which means both child and love, and Sakura, the word for cherry blossom, while Mochi is the name of a delectable Japanese dessert made from sticky rice
  • Russia has inspired a number of dogs given the names Nikita and Anastasia
  • Australia has its own set of pet names that instantly recall their source, such as Wallaby, Dundee and Dingo
  • Being a Welsh dog, clever names and their meanings for the corgi have included Emrick (immortal) and Brenin (king) for male dogs, and for females, Banon (queen), and from Celtic myth, Isolde

Names like Rosie, Duke and Bear are great names for dogs, but a new crop of monikers seems to be emerging and they have a new twist. They’re inspired by words with meaning but in languages other than English. One case in point, shared by Karen London, Ph. D. in The Bark, is a dog named Oso, Spanish for “bear,” chosen by someone who’d spent an unforgettable year in Mexico.1

Significant people, places and events are often good inspiration when naming a pet. French designations are popular; Bisous is the French word for kiss, for instance, and Bijoux is French for jewels. Both names reflect the fondness and affection given to beloved canine companions, but they sound so similar it might be confusing if both pups lived in the same household.2

Spanish names are some of the most popular in the U.S., in part because Mexico is so close but also because there’s a lot of Spanish history in Southwestern states. Dulce means sweet and Alma means soul, and both names reveal a similar doggie devotion. “Paloma” translates to the word “dove,” London noted, the name given to another dog after her owner’s memorable trip to Peru to study exotic birds.3

Pet names often reflect beauty or a special bond, while others have a humorous bent. Some describe a dog’s size or personality. Bruno, which means brown in German and denotes power or strength, London explained, is a decidedly male name for a dog that could scale 6-foot fences at 6 months of age.4 And who would miss the point of a cute little pup named Schnitzel? London notes in The Bark:

“One family I know gave both their dogs German names after returning from several years living there on a military base. Despite choosing names from the same language, they managed to go in completely different directions in order to suit each dog. One of them was called Erzengal, which is German for Archangel, and the other one received the name Pups, which is German for fart.”5

Spanning the Globe for Dog Names

It’s not necessary to own a dog that’s an Irish wolfhound or French poodle to give them names from those foreign places. However, depending on a pup’s size, appearance or lineage, certain names just seem natural. For example, when you hear of a toy poodle named Fifi, it’s not hard to guess what they look like. Chanel, Dior and Tango suggest a cultured canine with a regal pedigree.

Similarly, a bulldog named Churchill or Winston signifies a solid dignity (and perhaps a bit of heft, as well). Names of cities or other places in Britain that have generated monikers for dogs worldwide include Manchester, Buckingham, Kensington and Chesterfield, and there’s no limit of dogs with character names from plays written by William Shakespeare.

Anyone who’s ever been to Italy would understand the panache of naming your pup Luigi, Giovanni, Leonardo or Dominic. Feminine names like Luca, Bella, Gabriele and Margherita are also good choices and give dog owners a chance to talk about how their pets got their intriguing names.

A number of Japanese names with important connotations include Aiko, which means both child or love, and Sakura, the word for cherry blossom, which usually appear in April, and is a very popular name for dogs born in this month. Dogs with pale fur are often given the name Mochi for a delectable Japanese dessert made from sticky rice.

Japanese dog breeds include the shiba inu and the akita, which often have meaningful as well as poetic names, such as Shinobu (endurance), Yoshi (nice), Hiro (generous), Yazuki (gentle moon), Haruka (spring flower) and Misaki (beautiful blossom).6 The Greeks are behind names like Omega and Adonis, and Russia has inspired a number of dogs given the names Nikita and Anastasia. Australia has its own set of pet names that instantly recall their source, such as Wallaby, Dundee and Dingo.

Olde World and Historical Names for Dogs

Dog names can also have a touch of Olde World sophistication, such as Agnes, Bertha and Josephine for female dogs, and for male dogs, Seymour, Mortimer and Reginald. Basque is an ancient language still spoken in parts of Spain and Portugal, inspiring pet names like Leiala (faithful), Zilar (silver), Laguna (companion), Uma (girl) and Neska (lass).7

Being a Welsh dog, the Corgi has gone by such meaningful names as Emrick (immortal), Brenin (king), Lolo (handsome) and Owain (young warrior). Female names include Banon (queen) and from Celtic myth, Isolde.8

Saffron is an East Indian spice and an exotic name for any dog with fur in a shade of orange, such as golden shepherds, retrievers and terriers, cocker spaniels, dachshunds or any number of mixed breeds with a ginger tint to their coats. As for a number of other names for dogs that elicit the essence of another culture, London adds in the Bark:

“Daphne is Greek for Laurel Tree. The Daphne I know has a human sister named Laurel who chose the name after visiting Athens for the 2004 Olympics. Ilio is Hawaiian for dog and I have met multiple dogs so named when couples adopted a dog soon after returning from their honeymoon in Hawaii.

Mita is Amharic for Little One. The family who has this dog has spent a lot of time in Ethiopia where this language is spoken. Cão is Portuguese for dog, which is fun because it’s pronounced like cow, only more nasal. The Hindi word for lightning, Bijali, is the name of a dog who runs so fast that the family was deciding between Bijali and Flash.”9

Names chosen for dogs after owners take an epic trip overseas are also very common, but the names themselves are not. Cities, countries and whole continents have inspired such pet names as India, Havana, Kyoto, Kashmir, Delphi, Zambia, Kiev, Cypress, Israel and Baja, and each brings its own distinctive air of flamboyance and mystery.