Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sit, God. Stay, God. Good God!

People sometimes name their pets after the gods. I’ve heard of cats and dogs named for Greek deities, Norse deities, Roman deities, and more. I assume that people like to name their pets with the deities’ names in an effort to honor the deities and to ask their protection on our beloved pets.

But, then I hear this happen:

Freya, quit knocking over the houseplants! No, Hermes, that’s not for you! Get out of the trash, Hestia. Go back to bed, Aurora. What do you want, Loki? Yemaya, get your butt over here! Don’t you dare pee on my bed again, Neptune. Stop eating your own sh-t...! Sit, God. Stay, God.

Good God.

This is messed up.

What is all this about? When a person names a pet after a deity, it turns out not being as respectful as a gesture as one may have intended. Pets are pets, and as such, their behavior standards aren’t ours. And as such, they’re eventually going to do something decidedly unhuman and even more decidedly ungodly. When they do something inappropriate, we tell them about it. Loudly. And often.

When pets have names of the deity, we’re actually calling the name of the deity, then proceeding to tell the deity all about how s/he has bad behavior. This isn’t a recipe for respect. Worse is if we actually do something good by working with our pets and training them; now we’re inadvertently issuing commands to the deities.  Instead of calling a pet by a divine name, I think it’s helpful to call a pet by a divine attribute or a phrase-name:

Name: Hermes-is-swift
Nicknames: Speedy, Flash

Name: Fires-of-Pele
Nickname: Flame, Sparky, Magma

Name: Poseidon-is-Protective
Nickname: Pip, Pippin, Captain

Name: Aphrodite-Adores
Nickname: Cutie, Dora, Addy, Darling

Name: Athena’s-Wisdom
Nickname: Alec (as in “smart-aleck”), Smarty, Brain

Name: Freyr-is-King
Nickname: King, Duke, Chief, Boss, Frick

I’d bet you all could think of plenty more. This type of naming, this name-phrase, is a common technique used in ancient Canaanite culture.

Bethel = House of the god Ilu
Hannibal = Favored of the god Ba'al
Daniel = The god Ilu is my judge
Gabriel or Gabrielle = The god Ilu is strong
Jezebel = The god Ba'al is here
Miriam or Miryam = The god Yammu is lord
And these are just a few of the Canaanite names still popular today.

For a good pet name, think about the deities of your ancestors, or the deities whom you respect and admire, then think about those qualities associated with the deities. Come up with a phrase-name incorporating the divine name with the quality, then come up with a good nickname or acronym for your pet if you need to use a shorter name. Another added benefit of using this naming system is that you can use the pet’s entire name without nickname to show your extreme displeasure, rather like a mother yelling her child’s full name. It’s much better than angrily hollering out the name of a god because the cat went on 'nip raid again.

[I wrote this post originally on another blog in 2013. I bring it back by reader request.

Please note that I'm not issuing an edict that Thou Shalt Never Give Pets The Names of Gods! No One Ever Should Ever Ever Do This! Lo I Have Spoken! Nor does it mean that if you've named your pet after a deity, that I somehow must automatically think "you are a bad person." I don't. I realize that some people read posts with their "angry-eyes" on: they do not read in good faith, and do not perceive nuance. I realize that most people who name pets after deities probably do this out of the best of intentions, love of pets and love of deities. However, I am calling on ourselves to think about these matters more consciously and to have intelligent dialog on these matters. I call for making sure that we consider whether or not our actions are in alignment with our efforts towards having good relations with the deities. I call for this consideration so that we may honor the deities as real individual beings with their own volition, not as the names of fictional storybook characters with romantic pasts. We must consider, too, if naming pets after deities is in alignment with our ethics: our own personal ethics, and our ethics in broader frameworks which may include, but isn't limited to, our other co-religionists, ancestors, other spirits, and beings and/or Beings. Also when you read this, take into account that your specific religion, and your specific deities, and your specific contexts may vary. Take into account that I am speaking of very general terms; one or two specific accounts of difference does not throw negate the matter of respect and consideration for the deities that I have put forth in this post. Please also take a moment to consider whether or not you're the intended audience of this conversation.

A person should think very carefully before naming a pet after a deity, and he should also consider his own personal motives for doing so. Make sure this is in keeping with the ethics and good relations that you have with that deity. Think very carefully about whether or not the deity would approve, look to divination with solid good diviners who keep good relations with their deities (and preferably the deity you have in mind), and consider very, very carefully as best you can the full meaning of the action you're doing and what that could mean to your relations with your deity, your relations with your pet, and your pet's relations with that deity, your relations with others who honor that deity, your relations with the ancestors, and your relations with other beings and Beings. There are occasions where naming an animal for a deity might be appropriate, but I would argue that these occasions are rare and may require some serious commitment of some sort to the deity-in-question, and these animals at that point may no longer be pets, and perhaps are no longer even ours.]

Image Credits: Bulldog and Cat by Arthur Heyer, Public Domain.


  1. I personally think it has a lot to do with the current philosophical stance that pervades our culture of, at worst, atheism; at best, agnosticism. If deities are archetypes then who cares? But if they're real....well that's a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

    1. When we see pets named after deities so often, we become so accustomed to the idea that we don't even question it any more. It's all ok when we're naming pets after characters in a story or a movie (like Percy Jackson, and plenty of others), but it's a much different matter when we stop to consider not just that these are Beings which aren't storybook or movie characters. These are Beings with their own needs, wants, and volition, but also that it can (and often does) into effect a messed-up power-dynamic wherein we call a divine name and treat the being carrying that name as subordinate to ourselves. We really need to reexamine this practice of giving pets the names of deities if we want to keep respect to the deities in the forefront of our minds.

  2. You know, i think I understand what you are saying. And my dogs are named Thor and Loki. When I first adopted my dog, she was already named Loki. She was also a year old and I wasn't going to change her name when she was used to it. But a few years later we adopted another dog, and he was young enough that his name was not "stuck" yet. We decided to go with the Norse "theme" and name him Thor. Its been years and its too late to change now, but you've made me re-consider for the future. If we adopted another, we were going to go with another Deity-name, but now I'm seeing the point it is kind of disrespectful in a way. Thank you for writing it in such an understanding way, tho, because it was never meant to be disrespectful. I can't change their names now, but I don't think I'll go with Deity-names in the future. I used to have a guinea pig named Socrates, tho.

    1. I'm glad you found the post helpful, and I'm glad you're thinking about the matter. Hope all your furry family members are well and enjoying the summer.