There is power in a name. We all know that, don’t we? It’s why choosing a name for our children or animal companions is such a big deal. In many ways, finding the right name for an animal is so much easier than for a child. We don’t have to worry, for instance, if the other kids will tease them about it on the playground, or if our relatives will be offended if we don’t use their name.
So, does it matter to our animal friends what name we give them? Well, no, and — yes. For the most part, your animal companions, very like your children, will learn the names you call them by and will accept and carry them throughout their lives as a reflection of their bond and connection with you. For that very reason, care and attention given to naming can be an important way of creating, strengthening, and honoring that bond.
This is especially true in cases where a name is backed by a strong image or feeling. An animal will pick up on that image or feeling and may internalize or identify with it. Cats, for example, hate being laughed at, so choosing a funny name that makes other humans laugh when they hear it might mean that your cat will choose to avoid other humans rather than be greeted with derisive laughter. (Hmmm. Not so different from that playground thing, after all, is it?)
Everyone has their own approach to naming. Over the past decade or so, I’ve been experimenting with bringing animals into the process.
I first met my cat, Luna, when she was a tiny kitten, too young to be taken from her mama. During the weeks between our first meeting and my being able to bring her home with me, I connected with her daily using intuitive animal communication. Every time I contacted her, I sent her love, which I visualized as a ray of light beaming from my heart to hers. After a few days, I knew that it was time to have a special name for her.
So, after sending out my beam of love, I told her that I was looking for a special word to call her by, something that would always mean her. I asked her how she saw herself and if there was anything she particularly liked that might be that word. Her first response was that she really liked that beam of light I sent her and could that be a name? I told her there were many words that meant light and that I would find one to be her name. When her mama cat’s human companion (Luna’s human family of origin) suggested “Luna,” I offered it to her with an image of the bright full moon and it’s silvery-white beams of light that shine through the darkness. She was pleased by the image, the word, and the fact that it came from her very first human. She loved the image, it’s connections and the feelings behind the image, and she has always loved her name!
Another question that comes up on the topic of naming animals is in the case of adoption of an older or rescued animal. To rename or not to rename? Many people seem to feel that it is confusing to an animal to impose a new name. On the other hand, there are cases where a new name is a much-needed clean slate, creating a fresh start for an animal’s new life and new relationship with you.
When a human client contacted me about her newly adopted dog, Stella, she was primarily concerned about certain behavioral issues. Almost as an afterthought she asked if I would also find out how Stella felt about her name. She said the dog acted almost as if she was ashamed or embarrassed by it.
Since it was fairly far down on the list of topics to ask about, it wasn’t really in my mind when I first reached out to her through her photograph, sent my beam of love to her and called her by the name, “Stella.”
My very first impression was of shamed, submissive body language, the sweet, lively looking dog in the photo huddling down, shrinking in on herself, and turning her head away. Very clearly, I heard the words, “Stella is a bad, bad dog!”
It was clear that this dog had been traumatized by those words spoken in harsh tones of anger and disgust, immediately preceding ejection from her original home. Whatever she had done to prompt these words had been so terrible that she was no longer worthy of love or a home. Small wonder that the very sound of her name shamed her. Stella has since been renamed “Lilly.” As her new loving human wrote to me, “Names are powerful. I loved the name Stella, and it just couldn’t stay.”