Al Batt: What did Merriam and Webster name their dogs?

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I put my car into reverse.

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That took me back.

I thought about dog names. I’d been listening to an audiobook that mentioned a dog’s name. Bella and Max are the most popular names for dogs today. I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a good number of dogs during my existence but none of whom were named Bella or Max.

The reverse gear took me to a day before Christmas back when I’d just become old enough to determine my age without needing to involve my fingers. My family had a wonderful dog, but I’d hoped and wished for a dog of my own. As Christmas neared, I kicked my hopes and wishes into high gear.

A puppy showed up in our farmyard. A yard that was hosting blizzard conditions. I saw it from the window of our home. Had she been a white dog, I’d have been unable to spot her. I ran to the rescue without taking the time to dress properly. I snatched the puppy from the snow while I wore pajamas and slippers. I’ve heard often that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I’d offer an addendum. There is no such thing as bad weather, only idiots who go out in it while wearing their pj’s. The puppy was exhausted and cute. She appeared to be a Heinz 57, a cross between all the dogs in the township. Her appearance wasn’t a surprise initiated by my parents. They seemed as surprised as I was, denied any knowledge of puppygate, and wouldn’t have released a pup in such weather.

There was no question whether or not I’d get to keep the puppy. A puppy materialized in a blizzard. It was meant to be. It was a done deal. I needed a name for her. Rin Tin Tin and Lassie would put a lot of pressure on a puppy. I’d named some cows after teachers. So those names were off the table. I’m not proud of that or ashamed either. What did Merriam and Webster name their dogs?

Dad had named the current dog Bruce because he knew a guy named Bruce who he didn’t like. He said whenever he’d run into that Bruce, he could come home and kick Bruce the dog. Dad might have kicked a can down the road but he never kicked a dog. He wasn’t that kind and he loved Bruce. Besides, the human Bruce lived too far away to encounter.

It had to be a name I’d feel comfortable yelling from the front porch in the dark. For children, parents check the sounds of names and see if anything is embarrassing about the initials. They check memory files to see if they knew anyone with that name and if that carried any baggage. If you have rich relatives, it’s easier to name a child than a dog.

I decided on Rex. She was a female and should have been named Regina, but what did I know? I thought I was naming her after a T-Rex. Dad thought it was after Rex Allen, the singing cowboy. Rex was a great dog. She was quick to become housebroken. I’m still working on that. In a world where few things are what they’re supposed to be, Rex was.

Other dogs have been parts of my life. Queenie, Trixie, Wimpy (Wimpy was a character in the Popeye cartoons and a hefty hamburger lover), Poochie, Pal, Archie, Towhee (named after a bird), Gus (named for a cartoon I’d written for), and Sancho, a Chihuahua who entered my life while I was reading “Don Quixote,” and Bear who was a dogsled team rolled into one canine. Rumors hinted he was a St. Bernard-Jersey cow mix.

I’ve met dogs named Dog and Just Dog (JD). I’ve not met any dogs named Fido or Rover. I made the acquaintance of a French poodle named Phideaux and heard about a kid nicknamed Rover because he came running whenever his parents called the dog.

I had a neighbor who had at least 50 dogs. He named one. I don’t remember why. I know a man who gave each new dog the same name as its predecessor. He wasn’t George Foreman who had five sons and said, “I named all my sons George Edward Foreman so they would always have something in common.” None of them are named Grill.

Dogs see us at our best and our worst. And yet, they don’t go on “Maury” and spill the beans.

That’s another thing to be grateful for.


Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Tribune.