The Importance of Name Selection

What’s in a Name?

A toddler sits observing a pile of sleeping neonate puppies.
Young puppies being keenly observed for name determination.

(Applies to dogs, humans, horses… any species that recognizes that a unique sound refers specifically to them alone).

As you may have noticed, every APAW dog has a very special and unique name that is carefully selected for them; a name that wouldn’t even be _appropriate_ for the vast majority of other dogs in the program, never mind _perfect_ for another.

“… because names can have an effect on self-concept, names can indirectly influence how we act. However, research into the ways names affect people has uncovered a link that shows that our names–or at least other people’s reactions to our names–influence the way we behave even more directly.” ( — H. Edward Deluzain;

‘Names’ vs ‘Words’

This is why nearly every APAW dog receives a ‘word’ name; each name is chosen not only due to it’s special significance for that dog, but also for the instant emotional and intellectual reaction it will trigger in the majority of people who ever hear it… and thus will reflect positively from the person back to the dog, increasing the likelihood of the dog responding in the desired fashion.

Age at Name Assignment

Back when APAW kept for training nearly every puppy we produced, our puppies were each presented with their name before their ears opened around 3 weeks old, to be the first human sound they heard. We now wait to assign names once we’ve determined which pups will remain in our program and which will be placed. Regardless, once assigned their name is used over and over again through-out all of their positive interactions with people, at a much higher frequency than any other word or cue. By the time they are learning to wait or stay (as early as 6-8 weeks old), they are beginning to recognize their name as uniquely theirs, not to be shared with any other being.

Every day that goes by, their experience and understanding of their name gets stronger and stronger, and it becomes their identity.

Changing a Name?

If a dog or person’s name is going to be changed, it is only fair to do so _before_ they come to identify the name as their own.

Silver Poodle's stoic face - the face is shaved pure white hair with black nose and eyes, and the long hair of her topknot and ears is dark gray
“Galaxy” – APAW’s Across The Universe CGC-A CGC-U TKN

We do not permit name changing for trained dogs placed through APAW. Any new owners of puppies sold after 12 weeks of age are strongly encouraged not to change the name, or to choose something which sounds similar.

When APAW accepts a dog over this age into our program, the dog is not automatically given a new name. If they know their name – they respond to it happily and attentively and in a different manner than they respond to other words – then they will keep their name.

Only if it is considered unsuitable – slang, derogatory, poor impression, etc – will it be changed, and if the dog liked their name the new one will sound similar to respect and build upon the dog’s prior good associations.

If the dog has _negative_ associations with their name or no recognition at all, that is when I will choose a new name, so that the dog may start fresh – new sounds, new expectations, new life, new attitude – all geared towards making them the most successful assistance dog they can become.

A Uniquely Perfect Name

Anyone who has worked/trained with an animal extensively will probably recognize that the name of the animal is so uniquely ‘them’ that there never could have been another name – if a different name had been chosen in the beginning, the animal would have grown up to be a different being… genetically the same, but a different personality and therefore a different thought process and different influences for making different decisions.

Toddler and fluffy brown Poodle puppy snuggled on couch
“Locket” – APAW’s Key to the Heart

To quote again H. Edward Deluzain;

“The process that gives names their influence is the so-called self-fulfilling prophecy. Briefly explained, the self-fulfilling prophecy works this way. A man introduces himself to us as Percy. Immediately, our unconscious mind goes to work dredging up all the images and associations we have with that name. Without realizing it, we develop a mental picture–a set of expectations–of what a Percy is like. This mental picture causes changes in our own behavior that are so subtle that we are not aware of them. However, Percy picks up on the messages we are sending by our actions, and he makes unconscious changes in his own way of acting to satisfy what he thinks we expect of him. In other words, we set up a situation which forces Percy to behave the way we think Percys are supposed to behave.”

While I (Jillian) accept name suggestions from everyone with each litter, I do not let others actually match a name to a specific puppy to be kept by APAW (unless I have already approved the name for that pup). Homes who are acquiring a young pup from APAW obviously have full selection of their desired name, with only our light request to give higher preference to a name beginning with the letter the litter has been assigned.

In order for the name to be the most perfect name for that dog as an adult, it needs to be matched to the characteristics that the dog already has, or be chosen to balance negative characteristics in the preferred direction.

This even goes beyond the meaning of a word, right to it’s very sound – words/names/sounds can be soft or sharp, light or heavy, weak or strong, loud or quiet…


**NOTE – this name concept only applies to the call name (not the registered name), as that is the name which the dog is aware of and responds to the reflection of others’ perceptions.

Service Dog activates handicap door
“Eager” – APAW’s Eager To Please, working Service Dog


What names have you given your pets?

Why and how was their name selected, what does it signify, and most importantly – in what ways have they grown into it?



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