Marketing Shelter Pets: My Name is

Shelter pets need names.  A shelter pet with a name (accompanied by a fabulous photo!) comes across as an individual with a personality – not an unwanted, caged animal being held for killing.  Pets with names are a little more appealing to adopters and it doesn’t cost anything to give them this small benefit.  One thing they don’t need: names that make a negative impression.

Screengrab from Petfinder


It can be a challenge for shelter staff and volunteers to come up with marketable names, especially after they’ve already named 500 cats and 600 dogs.  What suggestions can readers offer for where to look for good names for shelter pets?

31 thoughts on “Marketing Shelter Pets: My Name is

  1. Are those first ones from petfinder? Because Petfinder has a little button on it so when you create a listing it will randomly generate a name for the animal.

    But while I am all for creative names for pets, a baby name book is always helpful too.

  2. Looking to pop culture is a great way to find names that people can easily recognize and relate to. Think: music icons, movie stars, Disney characters, etc. Delaware Friends of Animals along with Homeless Cat Helpers (DE) are re-homing a lot of cats from an over-populated home in southern Delaware. We have an adult, male black cat who came with the name Spooky, which just doesn’t bode well for him getting adopted. We renamed him Han Solo and will be putting him up for adoption as soon as he’s neutered and vaccinated. He’s handsome, just like his name sake!

    1. Pop culture is good, but politics is bad. Someone always hates someone in politics.

      My shelter took in a number of cats from one home and they all got Disney names (even Maleficent was adopted!).

  3. “Time Up” is awful, but even worse: we had an animal control officer naming pets she brought in “Trash,” “Garbage,” “Euth,” “Grease Spot” and “DOA” (the cat was not actually dead and we saved her.) We manage the municipal animal shelter, but the ACO’s work for the police department. I complained to no avail. Fortunately, this particular ACO no longer works there. Our SPCA employees now go through the records daily and re-name pets if they have names with negative connotations. Most of our employees and volunteers love naming animals and keep lists of possibilities on their phones. We go through phases: food inspired names, flowers, popular people names, etc. We also went through a phase where we all seemed to be creatively challenged and we had too many “Buddy’s” and “Callie’s.” Instead of changing their names, we gave them last names to differentiate them and ended up with some creative names that our adopters loved. “Buddy Love,” “Buddy Holly,” “Buddy BFF,” “Buddy Boy” were some.

    1. OMG, that ACO’s thought processes are scary! I know some people try to be funny with names, but sometimes, the joke falls flat – and the pet stuck with a bad name is at a terrible disadvantage. In a system where pets are killed for “time” or “space”, that disadvantage can be deadly.

      Instead of funny, aim for “cute”. My shelter recently had a Mr. Meowgi, a Cyndi Laupurr, and a Cat Stevens. Just don’t go too far – we also have an Anderson Pooper, which makes me wonder how late it was when these cats came in?

      I did see a dog at another shelter named “Dextor’s Laboratory”. Which… I know they’re trying (not hard enough to spell Dexter correctly, apparently), but still. If you really like the cartoon, just go with Dexter – it’s a perfectly good name in itself.

  4. I give all my foster cats and the ferals I TNR geographic names. Sometimes these are regions, like the cats whose owner moved away and left them at a house on Tipperary Lane; they are named for towns in Tipperary County. Some I’ve named for islands, some for mountains. I try to avoid anything difficult to pronounce or from an area where there is a conflict going on.

  5. I have a dog from Heard County GA, and I was in Florida when I found him. They network extensively to find homes for the animals that come in. Ever since I heard of them I have helped network for them as much as I can.

    The “Time Up” is used to note there is no rescue or adoption in place. They update the names to “rescued” and “adopted” as needed. They keep the animals online until they leave the building just incase something falls through. In many cases a “Time Up” has been kept for a month or more.

    It’s two women for the entire animal control department in that county with eight runs. Yet they have close to a 100% live release rate. The current director came on before GA banned gas chambers. Heard County had just bought a new one before approaching her to be the new director. She told them they only way she would take the job was if they removed it, and they did. Are they 100% no kill? No. But if we could clone those ladies and put them in every animal control we would be a no kill nation overnight. The only time they ever kill is medically hopeless cases and when they honestly have no resources or space left. And they are in tears over it.

    They also do whatever they can to reunite animals with their families. A couple of years ago they had a Beagle who was microchiped, but it was never registered by the owner. They tracked the chip back to a chain pet store in MD. The branch this dog had closed down, and the paperwork from it was lost. They still held out and called everyone they could to try and find out who had bought him. They only let him go to rescue after he had been there a month and they put a clause in the release paperwork that the rescue had to give the dog back to his owners if they were found.

    Believe me, I know there are many, many horror shows (to put it mildly) calling themselves animal controls. But this is NOT one of them.

    1. But surely their networking would be easier/more effective if they gave the animals names? They can still add the “Time Up” notation (although, seriously, couldn’t they come up with something better?) if that’s something they use. Why hobble the dogs with numbers like that?

    2. No one has stated or even implied that the place is a horror show. I’m glad to hear they have good people working hard to save animals there. TimeUp is a terrible name for a pet and the people there might not have to work quite as hard marketing their animals if they would simply choose marketable names for them.

      1. It’s partly due to the system that was in place when the current director took over, and an effort to keep the county officials out.

        They wanted someone who wasn’t a butcher, but they don’t want to spend any actual money on the animals they take in. They don’t even have a vet on call or a contract with a vet office. Any time a sick or injured animal comes in it is up to their supporters to raise funds to get them seen. Really, anything other than the building as it stands, basic chemical cleaners, basic dry food, and workers from the local prison to do the grunt work anything they have is due to their supporters.

        The officials don’t want to fund a boarding facility either. Numbers and a universal code is less likely to be remembered from one check to another than names. So they can “get away” with keeping animals longer and not raise any official eyebrows.

        Their system isn’t perfect. They will be the first ones to admit that. But for now it is the best they have to get the amimals under their care out alive.

  6. When naming an adoptable dog, google something like “names for golden retriever dogs” or “popular dog names for male dogs (or female dogs)” or go to the library to find a book on dog names. I’ve done this before with good results. Of course whenever possible, use a suggested name that actually fits the dog or cat! As the article suggested, do NOT give a negative name to an animal!

  7. An Arizona shelter started dropping breed labels to make dogs more adoptable, Territorio found another solution. It came up with a unique breed name for every mixed-breed dog as unique as the dog itself: Alaskan Collie Fluffyterrier and Fire-tailed Border Cocker, for example. In 2013, these names ***helped boost adoption rates a whopping 1,400 percent.***

  8. Broadway musicals and kids movies. A shelter here had a pregnant dog and they named her Mary Puppins. When the puppies were born – Jane, Michael, Burt, etc.

  9. Hey – I’m collecting a list of pet names to have available for my shelter – anyone got anything very marketable they want to throw my way? I’d appreciate it!

    1. You know it’s just about impossible for me to think up any pet names when someone asks. It’s akin to trying not to think of an elephant. I guess that’s why your idea of compiling a list is good. I always like the name Olive. And you can not go wrong with Scrappy. You don’t need more than two, I hope?

      1. Neko Atsume. I want to name a cat Billy the Kitten now. So I am the force behind the really weird and strange names at the rescue I volunteer for. I started with Admiral Applesauce – which spawned Sargent Swordfish and Col. Purrpants. I really want to use “Bob from accounting” because of how funny it would be to say “Bob from accounting won’t come out from under the bed”. For kittens I feel like going silly is fine – most people will rename the kitten when they get home. Adults I feel like you need to be a little more serious – they might keep the name for life. But food names are good (Pizza, taco, lentil), object (Paper, Staples), Spices (Jalapeno, Cilantro). I would say just think of a random category and start writing down as many words that you think fit. Then decide which would work on cats. You can make it collaborative. I know one shelter that has a list on the wall for the next category and anyone walking by can add to it.

      2. Oh no, two should be just fine. Yep, that’s all they’ll need, I’m sure.

        But I have the same issue – someone says, “Name this cat!” and I’m like, “Uh, every name in my head is now GONE.”

      3. Oh, I like Billy the Kitten and Bob from Accounting! Will use those for sure! Thank you!

      4. We used Bob from Accounting. And you know, EVERYONE LOVED IT.

        This poor cat was in and out of vet’s offices and every, single tech told us how much they loved the name. They stopped to take photos with Bob from Accounting because he was an awesome cat with an awesome name.

        It’s a damn shame he was not with us very long. :( But in his brief time, he was doted over and loved on quite a bit – and I’m sure that the name helped facilitate that. So thank you for the suggestion – you made a difference in a shelter cat’s life, brief though it was. (We lost him to renal failure and cancer some weeks later.)

      5. Aww – Bob from Accounting is so cute! I love that you actually used the name and that other people liked it too. Glad he was able to be loved for his last few months. :-)

      6. The success of Bob from Accounting actually inspired other names. Like Jake from State Farm (found going door to door in the neighborhood, like he was selling insurance). Jake has already been adopted!

  10. We had a 10,000 baby name list at our shelter :)
    Also, as much as we all hate Max and Daisy, I think there was a study a while back (no citation sorry) that common names got pets adopted faster.

    1. I agree. While I prefer weirder names for my own pets (Caoimhe and Rudolph the Red Tail Boa at the moment) I have no problem naming my shelter friends Max, Jack, Sophie, etc.

  11. names for BABIES books — usually available in pretty good condition at used book sellers – there are boozillions of unique, interesting names – some books will provide a ‘meaning’ or at least the ethnic background. Our shelter has 2 or 3 of them – one book has ‘10,000’ names for babies — not that we ever had the time to count them

  12. We use movies here at our rescue to come up with the names. Gangster movies are the funniest. We recently adopted out dogs named Vinnie the Chin and Lil’ Augie.

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