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Creative dog names that animal shelters use to help pets get adopted

Savannah, Hoda, Carson, Al Roker, Craig, Jenna Bush Hager … great names, right? They also proved lifesaving for six puppies last summer.

The nonprofit rescue organization Austin Pets Alive! pulled the six pups from overcrowded Texas animal shelters, where they were slated for euthanasia — just in time for NBC’s nationwide adoption event Clear the Shelters. So Suzie Chase, the group’s community relations officer, suggested naming them after TODAY’s anchors and hosts.

“Of course, they were all adopted almost immediately,” Chase told TODAY.

Left to right: Volunteers from Austin Pets Alive! hold puppies named Savannah, Hoda, Carson, Al Roker, Craig and Jenna Bush Hager. Courtesy of Austin Pets Alive!

With millions of dogs entering animal shelters and rescue organizations each year, staff and volunteers have to get creative to give each pet a unique name — not only to keep track of dogs in the system, but to catch the eye of potential adopters.

Picking names and sharing them with the public is an important form of marketing adoptable pets, according to Lisa Lane Cardin, director of marketing and development for the nonprofit Petco Love, which supports pet adoption efforts across America.

“Pet adoption is serious — it saves millions of lives every year — and it’s inspiring to see more shelter pet marketers having fun with the concept because really, what we’re doing is marketing among the most desirable commodities in the world: unconditional love,” she told TODAY in an email.

With so many puppies and dogs who need homes, staff and volunteers can’t simply choose popular female dog names like Bella, Luna and Daisy, or male dog names like Prince, Rex and Buddy. In fact, it’s often a fun challenge.

Taylor Snift flashes a superstar smile. She’s available for adoption from Austin Pets Alive! A dog named John Mayer was recently adopted when his namesake performed locally.
Taylor Snift flashes a superstar smile. She’s available for adoption from Austin Pets Alive! A dog named John Mayer was recently adopted when his namesake performed locally.Photo courtesy of Austin Pets Alive!

Due to caring for up to 600 dogs at any given time, Austin Pets Alive! often picks themes, particularly for pregnant moms and their litters. For instance, Crayon gave birth to a colorful litter: Atomic Tangerine, Cadet Blue, Antique Brass, Unmellow Yellow, Manatee, Wild Blue Yonder, Tickle Me Pink, Granny Smith Apple, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Purple Mountain Majesty.

Meanwhile, pregnant Fruit Salad ushered in Honeydew, Persimmon, Kumquat, Mango and Quince.

“If you take two dogs that look very similar, and one dog’s name is Bella — my dog’s name is Bella, and everyone knows someone with a dog named Bella — and the other dog’s name is Tipsy, then Tipsy gets adopted,” she said. “It’s just a fun thing we can do to help the dogs have a better chance at being adopted into a loving home.”

Sometimes Austin Pets Alive! changes names of dogs rescued from neglect, hoarding or abuse to give them a fresh start, like Abe, who survived being attacked by another dog while chained to a swing set and found a loving forever home.
Sometimes Austin Pets Alive! changes names of dogs rescued from neglect, hoarding or abuse to give them a fresh start, like Abe, who survived being attacked by another dog while chained to a swing set and found a loving forever home.Photo courtesy of Austin Pets Alive!

It’s a sentiment shared by rescue advocates across the country. Katie Gill, operations manager at Safe Humane Chicago, a nonprofit rescue organization that works closely with Chicago Animal Care and Control to help pets find homes, said both female and male dog names can be places the team would like to travel — such as Delaware, Ireland and Glasgow — to food or drinks.

A few of the dogs currently at the shelter with “cocktail” names include Pinot, Paloma, Riesling, Chardonnay, Mimosa, Sake, Vermouth and Hendricks (for summer G&Ts, naturally).

Henricks could be a great companion for someone who loves dogs and gin and tonics.
Henricks could be a great companion for someone who loves dogs and gin and tonics. Photo courtesy of Safe Humane Chicago

One special shelter dog got his name from an extreme experience: Topper. Rescuers had to use a crane to save Topper from the rooftop of an abandoned home; three of his family members were murdered, and the fourth died by suicide, leaving the dog to fend for himself.

He’s thrived over the past few months getting care from shelter staff and is ready for adoption.

“Even with his past, Topper doesn’t look back and is just as happy as can be. You can’t help but smile when you’re around him as he leans into you for pets,” Gill told TODAY in an email. “He’s a very good boy, and his resilience amazes me.”

Topper earned his name from being rescued from the rooftop of an abandoned house.
Topper earned his name from being rescued from the rooftop of an abandoned house. Katie Campbell

Animal Care Centers of NYC in New York cares for 6,000-8,000 dogs every year. About half are surrendered by their former owners — often with popular names like King and Oreo — but the rest are strays.

“We usually have ‘theme days’ where any shelter staff or volunteer in the building can add to the whiteboard,” said Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications for the nonprofit. “We have themes like ‘Harry Potter,’ pasta, flowers and TV characters.”

Someone with a sweet tooth at Animal Care Centers of NYC undoubtedly named this dog Brownie A La Mode.
Someone with a sweet tooth at Animal Care Centers of NYC undoubtedly named this dog Brownie A La Mode.Courtesy of Animal Care Centers of NYC

A dog named Rowena Ravenclaw cast a spell on a “Harry Potter” fan, but Luna Lovegood is still available — along with adoptable dogs with names like Candy Crush, Uno, Honeycomb, Teddy Bear, Ziggy, Biggie, Fendi, Amor, Oksana, Lambchop, Koopa Troopa, Heavenly Gigi and Loki.

Name themes at Farmington Regional Animal Shelter in Farmington, New Mexico, range from food, plants and other animals to co-worker names, according to Stacie Voss, animal welfare director. But they run the gamut: Comet, Cookie Monster, Gooseberry, Mable, Tadpole, Comet, Pookie, Dandelion, Koi, Tweety, Juliet and Denali.

“Usually cute, creative names and a good picture help get the animals adopted,” she told TODAY in an email.

Tadpole, 4 months, awaits adoption from Farmington Regional Animal Shelter in Farmington, New Mexico.
Tadpole, 4 months, awaits adoption from Farmington Regional Animal Shelter in Farmington, New Mexico.Courtesy of Farmington Regional Animal Shelter

Old dogs can learn new tricks — and new names, according to Jen Coudron, “Mutt Manager” at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California.

“We have learned that dogs can learn a new name in just a couple days, and that humans are way more attached to names than the dogs are,” she told TODAY in an email.

Muttville tries to never re-use names, and will rename dogs surrendered with common names like Lulu, Coco, Max and Buddy — “One week, we had five dogs coming in named Buddy,” she noted — to help keep track of them in the software system.

A popular recent theme for dog names was Italian food, which garnered Spaghetti, Meatball, Linguini, Pizza and a bonded pair named Ravioli and Side Salad — who were just adopted together.

Bonded dogs Ravioli and Side Salad found a loving home together.
Bonded dogs Ravioli and Side Salad found a loving home together.Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

At Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, California, little strays might be dubbed Bumble, Peanut, Turtle, Snax, Roy, Poppy or Brownie. Larger golden oldies tend to get endearing older generational names like Sydney, Frannie, Abby, Myles, Bonnie, Birdie, Joey, Astrid, Barry, Lulu and Chrissy, according to Laura Oliver, the nonprofit’s founder, president and medical director.

“We definitely try to give stray dogs cute or appealing names that may indicate their personality,” she told TODAY in an email. “Sometimes we use names related to the holidays around which we rescue them.”

Bumble catches a ride from a volunteer with Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, California.
Bumble catches a ride from a volunteer with Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, California.Amy Mansfield / Amy Mansfield Photography

On the other end of the age spectrum, Moms and Mutts: Colorado Rescue for Pregnant and Nursing Dogs keeps busy transporting pregnant moms and unwanted litters of puppies primarily from Texas to rehome in Colorado, according to Aron Jones, the nonprofit’s founder and executive director.

“I think the most popular themes we have done lately have been ones where we incorporate different languages and cultures,” she told TODAY in an email.

For instance, the “Hello Doggy” puppies are all named after the word “hello” in different languages: Ahlan, Bonjour, Ciao, Guten Tag, Hola, Namaste, Oi, Privet and Yassas

“We also have the ‘Barks of the World’ litter that features languages from around the world and they are named Bengali, Catalan, German, Malay, Mandarin and Pashto,” Jones added.

Malay is one of the puppies in the Barks of the World litter available for adoption through Moms and Mutts: Colorado Rescue for Pregnant and Nursing Dogs.
Malay is one of the puppies in the Barks of the World litter available for adoption through Moms and Mutts: Colorado Rescue for Pregnant and Nursing Dogs.MAMCO

Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, California, has found success giving dogs and cats names that would correspond to videos to help them get adopted, according to Ryan Hinderman, communications and customer service manager.

One such hit involved a dog named Colton for a spoof on “The Bachelor.”

Distinctive names lend themselves to all sorts of social media posts and can help a pet stand out from the crowd, according to Heather Friedman, chief marketing officer at the nonprofit LifeLine Animal Project in Atlanta, Georgia.

For example, a pup named Flo-Rida got adopted thanks to a post that read: “Our very own Flo-Rida’s next big hit is coming this weekend in the form of a fee-waived adoption event! His musical skills are not quite the level of his namesake so instead he will be glad to give his pawtograph when you stop by for a meet & greet!”

“A silly name is just the thing to catch an adopter’s eye, whether that is in our shelter or on our website,” she told TODAY in an email.

To help a sweet black-and-white pup get noticed when there were several other similar-looking dogs available, LifeLine named her Debrah OrCredit. After she was featured in an upbeat TikTok video, she found a forever home.

Other dogs with happy endings include Cindy Pawper, Ja’Crispy, Secret Agent Randy Beans, Mr. Brutus Waffles and a rabbit named Hedda Lettuce.

Cindy Pawper just wants to have fun in her new forever home.
Cindy Pawper just wants to have fun in her new forever home.Courtesy of LifeLine Animal Project

A terrified, emaciated dog found in a plum box was initially too scared to leave his box, so LifeLine called him Plum — and helped him gain confidence to leave the box and ultimately find a home to call his own.

After gaining the confidence to leave the plum box in which he was found, Plum joined a loving home.
After gaining the confidence to leave the plum box in which he was found, Plum joined a loving home.Courtesy of LifeLine Animal Project

In Kansas City, Missouri, the nonprofit KC Pet Project cares for more than 14,000 pets a year, so staff and volunteers pitch in to pick names that match each animal’s personality. Foster families name litters of puppies and kittens in their care (there was recently a litter of “Bridgerton” kitties), according to Tori Fugate, chief communications officer for KC Pet Project.

“Our jobs can be very stressful and difficult and naming pets can be a really fun activity for our team,” she told TODAY in an email. “Plus, it helps adopters instantly gravitate toward a pet that they are interested in.”

Right Twix found a forever home this January. Amusingly, there wasn’t a Left Twix.
Right Twix found a forever home this January. Amusingly, there wasn’t a Left Twix.Melissa Peck Photography

While adopters sometimes decide to keep their dog’s shelter name, many others change them. Best Friends Animal Society offers a video and tips about how to help a dog learn a new name.

In fact, the nonprofit’s CEO, Julie Castle, recently adopted a dog named Montblac from the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Los Angeles, California — and changed it.

“While it was a fun name, it didn’t suit her goofy, vibrant personality,” Castle told TODAY in an email. “We decided to rename her Sunshine, aka Sunny, to better reflect the ray of light that she is and to complement our other pup, named Shadow. It didn’t take her very long to learn, either — a name change is a lot easier to teach than people would probably expect.”

Bonded pair Touche (winking) and Vice Versa were adopted together.
Bonded pair Touche (winking) and Vice Versa were adopted together.Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

In the meantime, you can always have fun perusing dog adoption websites — both from shelters and rescues or searchable sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com. Perhaps Gravy, Elvis, Triumph, Riptide or countless other whimsically named adoptable pets will turn out to be the perfect fit for your home — or at least bring you a smile.

Warning: Passwords and pet names

No matter how much you love your pet’s name, never use it as a password, cautions Kelly Merryman, president and chief operating officer of the digital security company Aura. For starters, it’s easy for hackers to learn your dog’s name through social media posts.

“You just don’t think about the fact that when you tell stories about your life online, those are critical pieces of information that bad actors can find — and they can find it really easily,” she told TODAY. “They don’t have to go on the dark web to find my pet’s name. They just go on my public Instagram.”

Data released by Aura this month found 1 in 3 pet parents have used their pet’s name as a password for online accounts. Adding numbers — or substituting a dollar sign for the letter S or zero for the letter O —  doesn’t offer protection since cybercriminals can program bots to try every number and permutation.

“Bots can be taught to operate very quickly and just push out every known version of a number before and after the name of my pet,” she said. “They can have hundreds of thousands of those running at the same time.”

So use your pet’s name to call them over for a treat — not to protect your online account.