Animal Shelter Volunteers Give Their Pets Wild Names

A volunteer hugs two dogs outside at a shelter

mladenbalinovac / Getty Images

There is an age-old question of potential pet adopters: What should my new furry friend’s name be?

Believe it or not, this query often gets answered by the shelters where these animals get their start: The volunteers who walk, feed, cuddle, and love on these future pets also endow them with some creative names.

Rachel Syme's tweet about the dogs at the shelter where she volunteers.

Rachel Syme / Twitter

The Spruce Pets reached out to four shelter volunteers around the country to hear what they name the dogs they work with. The themes range from celebrities to Broadway show titles and vegetables.

Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue (Brooklyn, NY)

Meghan Overdeep, a senior staff writer at fellow Dotdash Meredith publication Southern Living, fostered dogs for Brooklyn-based rescue Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue (BBAR) for five years. Here, she witnessed how the organization named all of their dogs wacky names so they would attract the attention of potential pet parents.

She ended up fostering 16 dogs for them.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but most rewarding, as all of these dogs had never lived in a home before, and some of them had health problems, so I was really put to the test at times.” she said. At one point, Overdeep even had to learn sign language for one of her deaf foster pets.

“Your heart gets stronger. These dogs would be stuck without people willing to take them on,” she said.

BBAR would often name the mom dog first and name her puppies to match.

Once, she said, there was a dog anointed with the name Beyoncé, and BBAR named all the puppies after Beyoncé songs (there’s a pooch out there who was once called "Irreplaceable!").

Another mom was named Chrissy Teigen, and the puppies were recipes in her cookbook, "Cravings," Overdeep said.

When the musical "Hamilton" was big on Broadway, they named the dogs after the stars in the original cast. The shelter tagged the celebrities in their Instagram stories so they could meet their canine counterpart.

The dogs without puppies also get silly names after they come to BBAR from high kill shelters, said Overdeep. For example, she fondly remembers Tree Trunks and Green Bean.

Tacoma Humane Society (Tacoma, WA)

 Bryanna Shaw has been an employee of and volunteer at the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County for about six years. She has a passion for helping animals who are in transition and need interim care.

Shaw said she and her fellow shelter workers rely on a very handy guide when naming the pups: a baby-naming book!

 “If we can't think of one we use a baby name book and just open it to a random name,” she said. “Staff and volunteers love picking random names for the animals; most of the time we get to know the pet and pick what matches.”

The names tend to match the animal's personalities. One feisty cat was named Charlie Chaplin, for example. Foster parents, who care for some of the litters before they are adopted, usually name them.

 Shaw has also seen avant garde names such as Lambchop or Bubba and even a snake named Nagini after the "Harry Potter" character. Because it’s up to the foster parent, the names can get stranger and stranger.

Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue (Denver, CO)

For Claudia Guthrie, volunteering at a cat shelter is the purrrfect way to relax outside of her day job and care for the many felines she loves so dearly.

Guthrie has always been very into all sorts of cats, and says she is involved with the shelter of Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue to help these cuties find their forever homes. 

Claudia holds up a big cat at the shelter
Guthrie with a big fluffy pal at the shelter.

Claudia Guthrie

Many of the adoptees-in-waiting are often transported from shelters in Texas, which influences their names.

“They have two parts to their name: The first is what the Texas shelter named them, the second is the location of the shelter,” she said. For instance, a couple of these names were Tuck Pampa and Ramona Houston.

As there are so many cats from different parts of Texas—from Houston to Dallas, she feels all cats in the business of being adopted deserve to have fabulous, interesting names with ties to where their roots came from.

It’s part of Guthrie's passion as a cat shelter volunteer to make sure other people’s animals/future animals are thoughtful responders. 

Wayside Waifs (Kansas City, MO)

Like Shaw, volunteer Mary Kate William often also uses themes that differentiate litters of puppies and kittens at Wayside Waifs.

“When it comes to litters of puppies or kittens, there’s usually a theme so we can tell which litter they’re in,” she said. “For example, I once got to name a litter of puppies after different penguin species: like Gentoo, Emperor, Macaroni, and more! 

Mary Kate Williams works with a pup on her lap
Willaims works with the help of a shelter pup.

Mary Kate Williams

It’s the best way to keep things organized, especially this time of year when we have tons of puppies and kittens in foster.”

Williams loves to give the animals lots of love and help them find their forever home—or at least their possible forever name.

You can always rename a pet once you adopt it, but Williams thinks the names her shelter chooses are special. For the many strays transferred from smaller, rural shelters that are random intakes, the shelter comes up with names at the volunteers’ discretion.

On occasion, the names derive from happy accidents. Williams was once supposed to type out the name "Bingo" for one dog she was searching up the info for, but ended up making the typo "Bungo." That name quickly became part of the lexicon.

Mary Kate Williams with a kitten friend
Williams takes a selfie with a shelter kitten.

Mary Kate Williams

“I thought that word was hilarious, so I suggested it as a name to my friend in admissions," she said. “The name was assigned to the next stray dog that came in, and Bungo the chihuahua is forever my legacy.”

So, does Williams have any other names up her sleeve in the meantime?

“I’ve been trying to get an animal to be named Mothman for a while now, but that keeps getting shot down,” she said.

Here's hoping Mothman graces Kansas City soon.