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16 October 2017

“Gandalf, please”: as a vet, here’s what I’ve learned from how people name their pets

“Would Satan like to come through now, please?”

By Bradley Curtis

“Gandalf, please.” As I usher my next patient into my consulting room I’ve already made certain assumptions. This is a male cat around 15 years old, the person responsible for naming him now has a flat of their own, and the couple who have brought him in are rattling about in a child-free four bedroom house.

As a vet, sure, I make assumptions about my patients based on their name. Starting out at a city clinic in a rough area, I’d peer into the waiting room to see a collection of Staffies and pitbulls staring back at me. “Would Satan like to come through now, please?”

Of course, making assumptions is wrong, but sometimes they’re genuinely useful. These days the Frodos and Pippins are more likely than the Dumbledores and Hagrids to need a geriatric blood profile or dental intervention. And anyone with a four-year-old child will understand that Chase, Rubble and Skye are probably booked in for neutering. (Only the senior partners remember treating a Garfield or Cagney and Lacey.)

Here’s an interesting project for a final year vet student – can we measure the success of a media franchise by analysing patient names collated across UK vet practices? It’s much harder to guess the age of Yoda, Luke and Leia, Scooby and Scrappy.

Which brings us on to duos. My advice? Don’t risk it. Name a pair of littermates Gin and Tonic, Gilbert and Sullivan, Ben and Jerry and you’re setting yourself up for a tragedy. Once Hardy went missing, no one got the reference when Laurel turned up for his vaccines each year.

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I went through a phase of trying to impress by researching the names on my appointments list in advance. When I saw Jocasta booked in, I used my coffee break to buff up on my classical mythology. Here’s an owner who’ll want a diagnosis in Latin.

This kind of prepping backfired horribly once. “Clayson, please. A reference to the World War One pilot?” His owner looked at me blankly. “The Royal Flying Corp?” “Erm, in a bit of a hurry mate – he needs his jab?”

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of nominative determinism – the plumber for our clinic is called Mr Funnell – and I think this applies to our pets, too. If you choose to name your pet Scratchy you only have yourself to blame when the allergic dermatitis sets in and, yes, Sniffles is sure to develop a chronic rhinitis. Beware the ironic determinism too. If I see Princess or Fluffy on my list I’m going to have a muzzle to hand. 

Bradley Curtis is a vet based in Kent

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