Long before I actually got a dog, I had his name picked out: Howie. Of course, I couldn’t have known that I’d adopt my first dog in France and not my native Canada, or that the pronunciation of the name I had always wanted would become problematic.
“Owie?” my husband repeated, dropping the hard “h” sound at the beginning of the word, as is typical in the French language.
“No, HHHHowie,” I said, exaggerating the correct pronunciation and sounding like I was coughing up a hairball.
I eventually decided to renounce the name Howie, not wanting to spend years hearing my dog being called Owie, which, in my English-speaking mind, will always be synonymous with “ouchie” or “boo boo.” Instead, my husband came up with our dog’s name: Pinch. And while my English-speaking friends and family assumed it was inspired by the verb “to pinch” (which usually provokes an owie) or the cooking measurement (“a pinch”), French-speaking people automatically understood it as the diminutive form of Pinscher (the same word in French and English). My husband’s lazy attempt at finding a name for our new puppy actually worked out really well, because everyone loved the name Pinch.
Pronouncing it correctly is a different story.
I probably should have known that giving an English name to a dog born and raised in France would likely cause a few pronunciation snafus. At first, I tried to insist on the correct pronunciation of Pinch — short “i,” hard “ch” — but over the years I realized that if I didn’t want to be constantly spelling my dog’s name for people, I’d have to just have to start pronouncing it the French way. And so now, when we stop to chat with someone at the park or I take him to a new vet, I’ll introduce him as Peeensh. “Oh, like in Peeenscher!” the French person will usually respond, smiling and feeling clever as they put the name and breed of my dog together.
Surprisingly, however, not all dogs in France have French names. A quick survey of my apartment complex showed that four out of six tenants own dogs, and that all four dogs have English names: Pinch, Hulk, Cooper, and Floppy. Many French people think it is funny or trendy to name their dogs after characters from American and British pop culture. I’ve met more than a few Luckys (pronounced “Loooky”), Ladys, and Snoopys. And with the rise in popularity of the Harry Potter series came an influx of Harrys (“‘Arry”) and Hermiones (“‘Ermione”). My parents-in-law, who don’t speak a word of English, had a Terrier mix named Bill (“Beeel”) and a Shepherd mix they called Roxanne.
Traditionally, in many European countries, purebred dogs are given names that start with the letter assigned to the year they were born. In France, the years follow alphabetical order, although the letters K, Q, W, X, Y, and Z are omitted because they are deemed too difficult to use. In France, for example, all registered purebred dogs born in 2012 should have been named something starting with H for the official records (the letter H presenting its own problems as I mentioned earlier). French dogs (and cats) often have long complicated registered names, but will then be called something short and easy at home.
While breeders in France usually respect the letter tradition, most French people don’t use this system to choose a name for family pets or for strays picked up and renamed by animal shelters. But for those who are stumped for a name and would like some suggestions, most veterinary clinics give out free lists of names -– one for males, one for females –- starting with the letter of the current year.
My vet clinic has a poster up in the waiting room that lists potential dog names for 2013. This year’s letter, logically, is I, and a quick look at the poster shows such possibilities as: Icecream (written as one word and for both males and females); the tongue-twisting Ispahan (male) or Ipanéma (female); and, most surprisingly, Ifyouwant (male) and Iloveyou (female). Why settle for a one-word moniker when you can name your pet a whole spaces-optional phrase?
I sometimes wonder how different this dog-owning life in France would be if I had given my French dog a French name. Would it strike the other people in the waiting room as funny or bizarre if the vet technician announced, “The vet can see Jean-Jacques Rousseau now, Madame Gibson.” What if at the dog park I was calling out for Pepé le Pew and not Peeensh?
I do love my dog’s name, and I’ve never regretted not calling him Howie. His English name stands out in France, and he’s usually the only Pinch in the system at the vet or the kennel.
This uniqueness doesn’t apply to my spouse, though, who happens to share a name with a lot of dogs. During my Frenchman’s first trip to my hometown in Ontario, Canada, we stopped to pet a beautiful blue-eyed Husky. I asked what the dog’s name was, and when the owner replied, “Max,” my husband’s smile grew even wider. “Yes!” he exclaimed, puffing up with Gallic pride. “A good French name! It is my name, too!”
Does your dog have a unique name that provokes questions or problematic pronunciation? Let us know in the comments!
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