Move over, Rover, there's a new top dog in town, and her name is Bella. For 2012, the "Twilight Saga"-inspired moniker was the most popular for dogs and second-most popular for cats, according to a survey by one veterinary organization. For dogs, Max took second place.
The survey gathered names of 2.5 million dogs and cats at the Banfield Pet Hospital, a veterinary network in Portland, Ore.
The top names resemble those from years past, said Laura Wattenberg, a baby-name expert and the creator of babynamewizard.com
"Max in particular has been the top name for male dogs for a number of years now," Wattenberg told LiveScience.
Cuddly fur babies
In general, pets have been given much more humanlike names over the past generation, Wattenberg said. That reflects a change in society, in which owners see their fur babies more as family members than animals, she said. [What Your Dog's Breed Says About You]
The names people choose for their pets also reflect a sweet, nostalgic innocence.
"There's a particular slice of human names that have risen for baby names as well, but they're particularly popular for pets. That's the cute, cuddly names of the early 20th century."
These names, such as Max and Lucy, tend to crop up frequently as heroes or heroines in kids' picture books, Wattenberg said. For instance, the hero in "Where the Wild Things Are" was named Max. These names may reflect how people see their pets.
"They're like children who never have to grow up," she said.
Old and new
Pop-culture trends also influenced the popularity of pet names found in the survey. Aside from the top-ranked Bella, Katniss also saw wide use, becoming 18 times more popular for dogs and 14 times more popular for cats, compared with 2011, following the release of the "Hunger Games" in March. Reality TV stars also got their due, with Honey Boo Boo (a 6-year-old beauty pageant star of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo") and Purrfect (the name of Cee Lo Green's cat on "The Voice") rising in the ranks.
Still, for dog and cat names alike, familiar can still win out over hip. Perennial favorites like Max and Buddy took the second and third slots for dogs, while the perhaps unimaginative Kitty was the most popular name for cats.
Cats vs. dogs
Interestingly, more humanlike names, such as Charlie or Lucy, were popular for dogs, while unisex monikers like Smokey, Shadow and Tigger describing physical traits like color ranked high for felines in 2012.
That may reflect how much people project a human role onto their pets. For instance, one study showed that animals kept in the house are more likely to get human names, Wattenberg said.
"You could infer from this that people feel a little bit more attached or feel like they have a more personal relationship with their dogs," she said. "Obviously cat lovers will howl at that, but that's what the names say."
In general, pet names overlapped very little with baby names. While the trend toward nostalgic, 20th century names carried over from baby naming trends, formal names ruled for human tots. But cuddly, affectionate nicknames took precedence for pets. From the list of pet names, only Chloe made the list of most popular girl names in 2011.
For instance, pet names like Coco or Rocky are more intensely retro than Ava or Jacob (which are more likely to be given to babies). That suggests, as a society, "we're more willing to push the style to the extreme with pets and maybe even live out the naming fantasies that we wouldn't quite be able to give to our children," Wattenberg said.
Here are the top ten names for dogs and cats in order of more to less popular:
Top Dog Names:
Top Cat Names:
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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.
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