The Power of Names


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.”


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14 Responses to The Power of Names

  1. Your stories of Luna and Stella are so touching. Thank you for reminding us that names do matter to our non-human relatives, as much as they do to us.
    Cathryn Wellner recently posted…#1177 Dr. Bob heals the poorMy Profile

    • Dara says:

      Thank you, Cathryn. Yes, I think animals know when we are honoring them, whether it is with their names, or otherwise, and they do care and respond.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for this lovely piece. I renamed a cat I adopted at age 6, and always wondered whether that was a “bad thing to do” — but I really felt she needed a new name. Plus I just didn’t like her original name. It did feel like a clean slate from her two previous homes, each w/ a different kind of trauma. I appreciated reading this affirmation.

  3. Giovanna says:

    Interesting Dara…I rescued, or she rescued me depending on our perspective, my Chihuahua/Pug mix from a school parking lot where I was a teacher. When we met, I said, “Well, there you are.” I picked her up and she put her head on my shoulder. When we went home that night, I put her in the passenger seat and she sighed with relief snd curled up in a contented ball. I named her Destiny. We were destined to be together. It was a tough time in my life and she transformed me with love. She was a scraper, less than a year old. Ate worms, drank out of puddles, still hunts snails and catches geckos. She is around 3 years old now and is my girl. Loved this post.

    • Dara says:

      This is so sweet! I love hearing your — and Destiny’s — naming story, Giovanna, and the relationship the two of you have. You certainly chose a name that honors your relationship with your girl, and I know she wears it proudly. Thank you for this.

  4. Michelle Gray says:

    Beautiful and touching article. When I got my dog Santa, his name was Santo after a baseball player on a rival team. I couldn’t allow him to keep the name, but didn’t want to change it dramatically since he was 2 when I rescued him. He has white whiskers (beard and mustache) and Santa just fit. Now, whenever he meets new people and I tell them his name, they comment how cute he and his name are, which results in lots of petting and affection from people…which Santa just adores.

    • Dara says:

      Thank you so much, Michelle. What a brilliant way to make a small change in a name to avoid a major adjustment, and express even more of who he is — not to mention getting him that extra attention. I love reading this.

  5. Starbear says:

    Yes! Thank you for this one… You have reminded me of all of the wonderful animals in my life and their names, chosen to honor them. Beautifully told story and makes me want to write, too.

    • Dara says:

      Thank you Starbear. Your name tells me that honoring the animals in your life must come very naturally to you. I know I’d enjoy reading what you write.

  6. Merri Beacon says:

    My baby girl didn’t have a name for a month because I wanted to name her Molly but her dad didn’t agree. Decades later I adopted my hound dog and I didn’t have to get anyone’s approval, but it still took me a month to decide. The dog’s name is Phoebe Etta. The daughter’s name is Molly, ha!
    Merri Beacon recently posted…The Invisible WomanMy Profile

    • Dara says:

      Thanks for this, Merri. Naming can be quite a process. I know someone who takes even longer than you did to name animal friends. She keeps trying on names until she finds one that she likes and that they respond to. I’m glad you stuck with it until you found the perfect name for both your baby girl and your hound dog.

  7. Merry Life Bringer says:

    This was a fascinating read and even the comments from readers were a real treat! I love that you sent out beams of love to your animal friends. That is a very special quality about you that I adore :). When undertaking the cat colony project, I went through a process with each cat to name them. Each name had to have meaning. My favorite names from the colony are Courage and Tangerine. Courage of course got his name from being courageous and the first cat from the feral colony to be curious enough to make human contact. The others followed his lead. Tangerine is so funny and spunky and she was scrawny at the time but wanted a big name that gave credit to her playfulness and unusual personality. Jasmine, whom my brother adopted, was fussy and exotic and wanted a name as beautiful as her. And the list goes on. Isn’t this a fun topic!! Great read.

    • Dara says:

      Hi Merry Life Bringer. I love that this post has made so many others want to share their “naming stories.” It sounds like all of your cat colony have found names that suit them, and honor the special beings that they are. Thanks for offering that.

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