Created By: Pichu-kun on April 18, 2016 Last Edited By: Pichu-kun on yesterday

Animal Naming Conventions

Animals give each other non-human names.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
trope
When it comes to xenofiction and similarly minimally anthropomorphic animal fiction, to emphasise how differently animals think from humans they often give themselves names besides common human names. Often these names are descriptive of characteristics the animals have, can lean into Meaningful Names, and frequently are a Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom. Sometimes an animal will have two names: a "human" name that people call them and their "true" animal name.

Compare to Law of Alien Names. Contrast to Stock Animal Name, which are names humans commonly use to address animals.

Examples:

Comic Strips
  • The Far Side has a strip consisting of two panels, "The Names We Give Dogs"...
    Owner: This is Rex, our new dog.
...and "The Names They Give Themselves".
Dog: Hello. I am known as Vexorg, Destroyer of Cats and Devourer of Chickens.
Other dog: I am Zornorph, the One who Comes By Night to the Neighbor's Yard, and this is Princess Sheewana, Barker of Great Annoyance and daughter of Queen La, Stainer of Persian Rugs.

Fan Works

Literature
  • Warrior Cats:
    • The feral cats have portmanteau names such as "Bluestar", "Dappletail", "Dawncloud", and "Oakheart". Their names are based around nature or things that feral cats would realistically know (for example, Tigerclaw was originally called "Hammerclaw" before it was realized cats wouldn't know what a "hammer" is). Cats will even sometimes name their kits after respected predators, like badgers or foxes, though no character has been called "Dog[x]" yet (possibly because feral cats don't respect dogs much). Certain prefixes are especially common depending on the Clan.
    • When a kittypet joins a Clan they're renamed, such as when Rusty became "Firepaw" in the first book. Clan cats receive several name changes during their life. When they're born they're called "[x]kit" but when they become 6 moons old, and become either warrior apprentices or Medicinecat apprentices, they are renamed "[x]paw". When they finish their training they're renamed again, however the end part of their name can be anything and doesn't follow a trend. If a cat ends up becoming a Clan leader then they're renamed again, "[x]star". Rarely, cats can be renamed in order to match injuries they're received (like "Halftail" or "One-Eye") or even rarer a young cat can be renamed after a disability they gained.
    • The Tribe Of Rushing Water has cats with unusual names even by the series standards, such as "Brook Where Small Fish Swim" and "Bird That Rides The Wind", but they're usually called by nicknames instead of their full names. Tribe Of Rushing Water cats are named after the first thing their mothers see after giving birth.
    • A badger named Midnight and a cougar named Sharptooth appear in the series, however no other's of their species are named.
    • Rogues don't follow the Clan naming schemes. Some are ex-kittypets while others apparently named themselves. They generally use naturalistic names like "Pounce", "Snapper", "Snowflake", and "Sniff".
  • Rabbits in Watership Down have nature related names like "Hazel" and "Blackberry" or descriptive names like "Bigwig" and "Buckthorn".
  • Most characters in Raptor Red have species names however the titular Raptor Red is named after the fact that she is a Utahraptor with a red snout.
  • Tailchaser's Song is about feral cats. They have three names: their "heart name" that only cats close to them use, their "face name" that is what most others call them, and their "tail name" which a name they figure out for themselves. The protagonist is a cat named Fritti Tailchaser. Other characters include the tagalong kitten Pouncequick, the Talkative Loon Eatbugs, and the Sole Survivor of a massacre Roofshadow.
  • Subverted in Coraline. A cat character says that cats have No Need for Names. Thus he is only known as "The Cat" by Coraline.
  • In The Underland Chronicles most of the rats have portmanteau names like "Twitchtip", "Ripred", and "Twirltongue".
  • In the book Windrusher a cat named "Tony" is abandoned by his owners and the plot involves him trying to get back home. Other animals call Tony "Windrusher".
  • Survivor Dogs:
    • Most characters are named typical dog names like "Lucky", "Sunshine", or "Bella". Most of these dogs used to be pets, but don't rename themselves when they become strays, like the cats in the sister-series Warrior Cats do. Wild Dogs who were born feral either name themselves more simple, nature based names or names related to things dogs know. Pups are born with descriptive names like "Squirm", "Lick", "Yap", or "Nose" but are either given "adult names" by longlegs or on their own during a Naming Ceremony. For example, Yap was renamed "Lucky" by a longleg while Lick chose the name "Storm" for herself.
    • The dogs in the Fierce Pack are named after weapons but they're an exception more than a rule.
  • It's mentioned in Stray by A.N. Wilson that animals reject the names humans give them. The main character is a cat is known as "Pufftail".
  • Subverted in Varjak Paw. Varjak and his family actually just have Preppy Names that are seen as weird by the outside cats. Strays have human-esque names like "Ginger", "Sally [Bones]", and "Holly".
  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: Cats are said to have three different names, a family name bestowed by their humans, one name unique to them, and a third secret name "that no human research can discover, but the cat himself knows, and will never confess".
  • The intelligent rats in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents take on names based on the first thing they read when they became smart enough to understand written words. Since most of them became sentient while living in a trash disposal pit beneath a wizard's tower, these names include things like Dangerous Beans, Sardines, Hamnpork, and Darktan.
  • Zigzagged in Redwall. For example, there are mice with names like Martin and Tim, and others with names like Cornflower and Gonff. However, the Always Lawful Good species (which includes mice) are usually more likely to have members with human names than the vermin, who are more likely to have Names to Run Away from Really Fast like Darkclaw or Bane, or madeup names like Kurda or Slagar.
  • This is subverted in Seeker Bears. Unlike the other Erin Hunter books, the bears have non-English but still human names like "Toklo" or "Ujurak".
  • In Bravelands, different animals feature different trends in naming:
    • Like in Warrior Cats with domestic cats, lion cubs are born with names like "Swiftcub", however, like in Survivor Dogs, their adult names are single-world and unrelated to their cub names. Lions tend to have names such as "Fearless", "Titan", and "Ruthless".
    • Baboons have basic, nature-related names like "Thorn", "Grub", "Mud", and "Berry". Baboons in the lower caste have less refined names than ones in the higher caste.
  • In A Dog's Life dogs name their puppies after things that are important to her. Out of a litter of five, only two puppies survived: Squirrel and Bone. Their mother was named "Stream". Later on Squirrel befriends a dog named "Moon". A fox named "Mine" briefly appears, but it's assumed she named herself so it's unknown if all foxes have names like that.
  • Animorphs reveals that whales and dolphins are sentient and telepathically communicate with each other. They refer to themselves collectively as Great Ones and Little Ones respectively.
  • Wings of Fire: The different types of dragons follow different naming schemes For example, MudWings prefer animal or dirt related name.
  • In Tomcat Blue Eyes Diaries, cats have descriptive names like "Blue Eyes" and "White Whiskers Rusty".

Film — Animation
  • Some of the animals in The Lion King lean into this. For example, Simba's name shows that he's a lion. According to a licensed book Scar was originally named "Taka" ("trash" in Swahili) before gaining his scar and renaming himself.
  • In The Land Before Time, dinosaurs refer to their species by descriptive names like Long Necks, Spike Tails and Sharptooths. As for proper names, they zigzag between descriptive names (Littlefoot, Ducky, Spike) and names derived from their scientific names (Cera the Triceratops, Petrie the Pterodactyl).

Theater
  • The jellicle cats of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit play Cats have their own names, though a few accept the name bestowed upon them by their human companions. Some of these names are Quaxo, Skimbleshanks, Rumpleteaser and Bombalurina. The Obiwan of the jellicles is Old Deuteronomy.

Toys
  • My Little Pony:
    • Ponies usually are given a Meaningful Name that somehow relates to their design, special talent, hobby, or symbol/Cutie Mark. For example, the original six ponies were Butterscotch, Blue Belle, Minty, Snuzzle, Cotton Candy, and Blossom.
    • Until G3 broke the tradition partway through, all foals (even if they acted more like toddlers or young children), sans Lucky and Ember who count as Early Installment Weirdness, were named "Baby [x]" (Baby Cotton Candy, Baby Firefly, Baby Winter Ice, etc) and many shared a name with their mothers.
    • Sea ponies have sea-related names.

Video Games

Western Animation
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood features many cases of A Dog Named "Dog" but also has characters whose names are descriptive, such as Scarface.
  • The titular race in Western Animation/Gargoyles do not typically have given names and identify each other by distinct physical features and a second person singular you in dialog. If they do have names, it is out of respect of the human that named them, but they tend to introduce themselves by "You humans call me..." for their names. Of course, this varies between clans. The younger Gargoyles choose names to help their new human friend, based on locations in New York City, where as the elder Gargoyle protests that he doesn't need a name like the sky or river, only to relent when he learns the river has a name (possibly still being a protest to the idea of having names all together). This varies between clans as the Avalon Clan do have given names (Most of them Biblical or Shout Outs to Shakespeare) and don't understand the concept, having been raised by humans. The Guatamalan Gargoyles have names, but they seem to be limited to the four who hold special gems and are more titles to pass down than names. The London Clan all have names, but they seem to develop from teasing and nicknames. The Ishimori Clan also have names, but have a better relationship with the local humans, so its not sure if its given by the clan or by the humans.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • April 18, 2016
    HeraldAlberich
  • April 19, 2016
    Chabal2
    • The Far Side has a strip consisting of two panels, "The Names We Give Dogs"...
      Owner: This is Rex, our new dog.
    ...and "The Names They Give Themselves".
    Dog: Hello. I am known as Vexorg, Destroyer of Cats and Devourer of Chickens.
    Other dog: I am Zornorph, the One who Comes By Night to the Neighbor's Yard, and this is Princess Sheewana, Barker of Great Annoyance and daughter of Queen La, Stainer of Persian Rugs.
  • April 19, 2016
    TonyG
    On The Land Before Time, dinosaurs refer to their species by descriptive names like Long Necks, Spike Tails and Sharptooths. As for proper names, they zigzag between descriptive names (Littlefoot, Ducky, Spike) and names derived from their scientific names (Cera the Triceratops, Petrie the Pterodactyl).
  • April 19, 2016
    DAN004
  • July 25, 2016
    Pichu-kun
    Bump.
  • February 10, 2017
    Tallens
    • Old Possums Book Of Practical Cats: Cats are said to have three different names, a family name bestowed by their humans, one name unique to them, and a third secret name "that no human research can discover, but the cat himself knows, and will never confess".
  • February 11, 2017
    Astaroth
    The intelligent rats in The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents take on names based on the first thing they read when they became smart enough to understand written words. Since most of them became sentient while living in a trash disposal pit beneath a wizard's tower, these names include things like Dangerous Beans, Sardines, Hamnpork, and Darktan.
  • March 11, 2017
    Drope
    Contrast with Stock Animal Names, which are names humans commonly use to address animals.
  • March 11, 2017
    DrNoPuma
    Literature
    • Zigzagged in Redwall. For example, there are mice with names like Martin and Tim, and others with names like Cornflower and Gonff. However, the Always Lawful Good species (which includes mice) are usually more likely to have members with human names than the vermin, who are more likely to have Names To Run Away From Really Fast like Darkclaw or Bane, or madeup names like Kurda or Slagar.
  • March 12, 2017
    DustSnitch
    I'm not sure if the "implied subversion" of the Pokemon example is really notable enough to mention here. Actually, it just sounds like an aversion rather than any real attempt to play with this trope.
  • May 19, 2017
    Leporidae
    Literature

    Fan Works

    • Fan works that utilize the "psychic wolf Bond Creatures" premise of A Companion To Wolves tend to keep the "smells as true names" aspect as well. Characters usually end up with a scent-name comprised of two to three distinct smells:
      • In the short Star Trek The Next Generation / A Companion To Wolves crossover Like Stars, Jean-Luc bonds with a wolf and learns his true name:
        "She looks at him solemnly, then nudges her nose against his timidly outstretched hand. He is aware of a scent. Black tea with a note of bergamot, and steam."
      • In the Girl Genius / A Companion To Wolves crossover Throw Aside Thy Cloak to Feed Me, a whole host of characters get scent-names. Agatha's is "cake and coffee and engine grease," Tarvek's is "something animal — and the clean, nose-prickling feeling of breathing outside air after it had snowed," Gil's is "thunder/ozone and burnt feathers," and Vanamonde's is "black coffee." Bangladesh, Jenka, and Ognian, who are wolves in this story, have names that are "the scent of hot, dripping blood and spilled entrails," "bear over a kill," and "dumb, panicked sheep and churned-to-mud earth" respectively.
  • May 19, 2017
    hszmv1
    • Animorphs reveals that Whales and Dolphins are sentient and telepathically communicate with each other. They refer to themselves collectively as Great Ones and Little Ones respectively.

    • The titular race in Western Animation/Gargoyles do not typically have given names and identify each other by distinct physical features and a second person singular you in dialog. If they do have names, it is out of respect of the human that named them, but they tend to introduce themselves by "You humans call me..." for their names. Of course, this varies between clans. The younger Gargoyles choose names to help their new human friend, based on locations in New York City, where as the elder Gargoyle protests that he doesn't need a name like the sky or river, only to relent when he learns the river has a name (possibly still being a protest to the idea of having names all together). This varies between clans as the Avalon Clan do have given names (Most of them Biblical or Shout Outs to Shakespeare) and don't understand the concept, having been raised by humans. The Guatamalan Gargoyles have names, but they seem to be limited to the four who hold special gems and are more titles to pass down than names. The London Clan all have names, but they seem to develop from teasing and nicknames. The Ishimori Clan also have names, but have a better relationship with the local humans, so its not sure if its given by the clan or by the humans.
  • August 8, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Theater
    • The jellicle cats of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit play Cats have their own names, though a few accept the name bestowed upon them by their human companions. Some of these names are Quaxo, Skimbleshanks, Rumpleteaser and Bombalurina. The Obiwan of the jellicles is Old Deuteronomy.
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