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Dog Naming Trends Through the Ages

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ThinkStock

2012: Bye Bye, Max. Hello, Bella!

According to the yearly roundup of popular pet names in the database of Veterinary Pet Insurance, the 10 most popular dog names for 2012 were Bella, Bailey, Max, Lucy, Molly, Buddy, Daisy, Maggie, Charlie, and Sophie. It was the third straight year Bella came in at number 1, after unseating Max in 2009. A company spokesman thought the ascendancy of Bella might have had to do with "the name of the heroine in a certain vampire book/film series that’s pretty popular these days."

2008: Sorry, Jake and Rocky—Here come Chloe and Sophie.

The year before Max lost the top spot, Jake and Rocky dropped of the top 10, replaced by newcomers Chloe and Sophie. Is there an "end of men" situation happening in the canine world too? Someone get the trend piece writers on that!

1985: Nipper is now George.

In 1985, New York Times columnist William Safire asked readers to submit stories of how they named their dogs, and in return got a list of over 12,000 dog names from all over the country. He noted a few trends. People tended to name their dogs after food (Cookie, Candy, Taffy, Peaches), disposition (Rascal, Bandit, Crab), color (Blackie, Amber, Midnight), and owner occupation ("Lawyers like Shyster and Escrow; doctors prefer Bones.") But the most noticeable trend was that people were using human names for their dogs more than they used to: "Instead of turning verbs and adjectives into proper nouns (for example, by calling a puppy that likes to nip your finger Nipper), we are using proper nouns directly, calling the little nipper George, Daisy or Charley."

1960s-1980s: Getting gender specific.

Anthropologist Stanley Brandes published a 2009 study of pet name trends as revealed by the gravestones at Hartsdale, America's first pet cemetery. He noticed the trend toward human names for pets develop slowly from the 1960s to the 1980s when names like Riko, Ginny, Francois, Samantha, Daniel and Venus started to pop up among names like Freckles, Snowy, Clover, Spaghetti, Champ, Happy, Rusty and Taka. One consequence of this shift was that names started to entail information about the sex of the animal. This was not merely a consequence of a switch to human naming, though. Even non-human names started to show sex distinctions. Note, for example, the graves of Cha Cha Man, Candy Girl, Mr. Cat, and Dot-Z-Girl.

1896-WWII: Hobo, Jaba, Boogles.

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, just outside of New York City, was established in 1896. Brandes notes that in the earliest monuments, the names of the pets might not even appear at all. Many of the early graves leave it at "Pets" or "My Pet." The family name of the owner is sometimes the only identifier. A well-known dancer of the time, Irene Castle, buried five dogs and a pet monkey under a monument engraved simply "Castle." Most of the graves do show pet names, but before WWII, they are almost never human names. The first half century at Hartsdale is represented by the likes of Brownie, Laddie, Hobo, Trixie, Rags, Jaba, Bunty, Boogles, Teko, Dicksie, Snap, Punch, Bébé and Pippy.

1800s: Semper Fido.

Abraham Lincoln had a dog named Fido, and this is often cited as the reason the name became the quintessential dog's name, but Fido was popular before Lincoln even became president. A favorite children's book of 1845 was called "Fido or the Faithful Friend," and told of the quintessential adventures of the quintessential boy and his dog. It's rather too bad presidents' dogs aren't the source of lasting naming fashions. We could be calling our dogs Sweetlips, Scentwell, Vulcan, Drunkard, Taster, Tipler and Tipsy like George Washington did!

Medieval: Mopsus and Mopsulus

Kathleen Walker-Meikle's book Medieval Pets shows that people gave a wide range of creative names to their pets then, despite the general objection that indulging pets was "an extravagance and a distraction from one's duties and obligations, in particular charity to the poor." Just as in Safire's 1985 survey, dogs were named for characteristics (Sturdy, Whitefoot, Hardy) and owner occupation – Stosel (Pestle) for an apothecary, Hemmerli (Little Hammer) for a locksmith, Speichli (Little Spoke) for a wagoner. They could even have human names like Jakke and Parceval. However, the most popular human names given to dogs were not the same as the most popular names given to babies, as they are today. For dog owners looking to buck the trends (or for that matter, baby-havers looking to buck the trends), here's a list of awesome medieval dog names: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus and Mopsulus.

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The Real Bay of Pigs: Big Major Cay in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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Christine Colby
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13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.

1. MILITARY SERVICE IS REQUIRED.

All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.

2. HE LIVES ON-SITE.

The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.

3. BUT HE’S HAD TO MOVE.

Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.

4. THE RAVENS ENJOY SOME UNUSUAL SNACKS.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.

5. THEY GET A LULLABY.

Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.

6. THERE’S A DIVA.

One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.

7. ONE OF THEM HAS EARNED THE NICKNAME “THE BLACK WIDOW.”

Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.

8. THERE IS A SECRET PUB INSIDE THE TOWER.

Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.

9. … AND A SECRET HAND.

The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.

10. HE HAS A SIDE PROJECT.

Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.

11. THE TOWER IS MUPPET-FAMOUS.

2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.

12. IF YOU VISIT, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY.

Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.

13. … AND ON YOUR EYES.

Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.

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