What’s in the name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” said the bard in Romeo and Juliet So what’s in a name?

Some dogs are famous individuals – Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Inspector Rex, and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s dairy. Their names are famous because of their pursuits, or what they achieve.

But some dogs are famous as groups. The St. Bernards with the keg of brandy around their necks, St_Bernard_with_barrel_alt

the explosives detection dogs which support our diggers,201492-sapper-darren-smith

the sniffer dogs looking for drugs or illegal imports. Quarantine detector dog

And of course, guide dogsSoutheastern+Guide+Dogs+Puppy

I love my guide dog. She is great at her job. I love walking, and she provides me with a far more relaxed and faster means of travel. On familiar routes she is almost perfect.

arrow is the cutest

She’s also a great addition to the family. She provides support and safety to my teenage daughter. She is an excellent foot-warmer for my wife. Her friendly lick on my leg in the morning is a great start to my day. And her leaps of excitement when I get out her harness so she can work just give me a warm inner glow.

But why is her name so important? “What’s your dog’s name?” is the most common question I am ever asked.

My standard answer is – “I don’t use her name unless I’m giving her a command”. I answer this way both because it is true (she responds very well to her name and I don’t want to lose that), and because if I tell people her name it will encourage them to pat her, or interact with her when she is working. These things make it harder for her to work, and puts my safety at risk.

During the time we have worked together (about eight years) I have been asked this question about six thousand one hundred and forty five times. That’s more times than most test cricketers score runs in their careers.  It’s not quite as many times as my dog and I have had hot dinners,dutch-hotmeals-mainbanner but its close to podium. Aus PC X Bradbury

I understand that people are evincing a genuine interest, and I get why they want to know. But I am well and truly over answering this question. I find it a little unnecessary and intrusive, but much less so than a lot of other questions people with disabilities are asked. But you can only repeat the same answer so many times before you start seriously contemplating the more extreme alternatives – which could involve physical harm to the questioner or the answerer.

I don’t want to be rude when I answer, saying things like “mind your own business” or “I’m not telling you.” That’s not the best way to oil the wheels of human interaction.


I don’t want to keep saying what I have said for years – not because its not true, but because I’m downright bored with saying it.


Perhaps I should try flippancy – “I can’t tell you, she’s working under cover” Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.40.34 am or “I’ve forgotten”.

Perhaps I should attach a small speaker to her harness, so that I can play a message saying “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t tell you that.”


What do you think? Please give me some ideas? I’m getting desperate! All suggestions will be seriously considered, and I will tweet the ones I choose.

(Graeme Innes has come to the end of his repetitive tether, and is desperate not to be dogged by the same request).

9 thoughts on “What’s in the name?

  1. I couldn’t agree more Graeme! I’ve often thought of just giving a false name, but haven’t as yet! If you do get some good suggestions, please don’t just tweet them, some of us don’t!

  2. You could either tell a white lie about it or you could say that you and your dog are in the witness protection program because people in a witness protection program are often leading secret lives.

  3. I agree, it is truly a repetitive question, there is another reason I prefer not to to give the right name on lots of occasions too. In latter years I have given my dog a completely different sounding name when people ask. One reason being that people can, unintentionally, because they don’t understand about not distracting your dog, they think it’s fine to call out to him by name when he is working. . At a doctor’s surgery waiting room a while back, a new venue for us, the girls behind the desk wished to know about my dog and I happily supplied them with the info, but on our second visit there, as we came through the doors, the girls behind the desk yelled, “Hello Barnaby”, to my my dog, greeting him and also clapping their hands! Of course, Barnaby was distracted and so excited, we walked straight into a coffee table in the middle of the room. So though I feel rather badly about not giving the correct name, I think there are other reasons that we might wish to keep the real name hidden. Valerie and dog guide, Barnaby.

  4. This is quite a serious answer – with apologies – as it is something that I’ve thought about a great deal. You have my heartfelt sympathy. I have an unusual name. People constantly ask me where it’s from – obviously they don’t ask that of Anne or Elizabeth or Graeme or George. Then they ask me what it means, and why I have been given that name, and who gave it to me.
    I suspect that one question is tolerable – but the more intrusive follow-up questions are unacceptable to you, as they are to me.

    I think that the difficulties are bound up with our training – to be polite, even in the face of serious discourtesy. It’s the same imperative that puts people at risk of physical and sexual abuse, because they feel constrained in their behaviour, even in the face of discomfort, fear and danger. This is what constrains pregnant women when they are touched by complete strangers.
    Perhaps it is also related to your need to be a flag bearer for those with disability (which I suspect is common to many people with disability) – so despite your urge to do serious personal damage to someone – you refrain, in the interests of maintaining the good reputation of everyone with a disability.

    So. I think if you preface this by laying down the boundary clearly at the start that would help:
    “I can’t discuss this with you. I don’t use her name unless I’m giving her a command.” will help with those that have sufficient insight to hear you!

    Then, for those that keep on about this, you are clear. They don’t hear what you’re saying. They are unlikely to appreciate a joke, and will not respond to anything other than clear instructions. It is now reasonable to simply reiterate “I can’t discuss this with you.” These are not people you need to be subtle, nuanced or even polite with. And you certainly don’t need to have a conversation with them.

    Good luck.

    1. Lilon, I totally understand where you’re coming from.
      I have a similar issue with people who insist on using my “legal name” rather than my preferred name.

      I am happy enough for people to refer to me as Ben, a name I am comfortable with, that is a common enough name, that does not have baggage attached to it.
      However when people ask what Ben is short for, or are communicating to me in an official capacity, going by my written legal name (Benjamin), it conjures up memories of abuse, frustration, and resentment.

      My kindergarten teacher would call me by this name if I was “misbehaving” or if she was unhappy with me; to the point that I vividly remember being asked if I was Ben or Benjamin one day? I stated that I had locked “Benjamin” in a cupboard at home, and produced the key to the cupboard to show that “Benjamin” had been safely locked away.

      This teacher would refuse children who asked to be excused to go to the toilet, then berate them for wetting themselves, along with spanking on the bottom with a ruler.

      I was so traumatized by my experiences with this teacher that I had to repeat kindergarten, and have never since felt comfortable with my legal name.
      I would cringe when well meaning people who insist on using people’s proper name would ask what my full name was and use that, in preference to my request to simply be called Ben.

      So if you’re interacting with me (or I guess anyone for that matter) show the courtesy of asking what the individual prefers to be called, don’t assume that their name written on documents is their preferred name, and don’t use a name in reference to someone without making sure it’s their preferred name first.

      As for what to call a service dog, or whether or not to give the name, I think a simple explanation that the name is a distraction, and that the dogs function as a service dog (of any kind), is more important than someone’s desire for a cute interaction with a dog that is doing a job.

      Service dogs may morph into companion animals at home, or at the preference of their owner or handler, such as when going on walks or outings where they aren’t required to be in their service role, but it’s not up to someone else to decide that a cute service dog should be up for socialization when it’s working.

      It’s simple, if a service dog is wearing its service dog coat, it’s working, and should not be distracted from the task at hand, no matter how cute, friendly, or happy the dog may be.
      You wouldn’t expect it to be ok to stop and ask a police officer, customs, or quarantine staff the name of their dog whilst it was doing its job, and it should be the same with all service dogs.

      If people don’t understand this, they are not entitled to know the dog’s name, and most people that would ask the name of a service dog generally just don’t understand the distinction between companion animal and service dog.
      It’s not as if a service dog is just a pet with a coat; these dogs have to undergo rigorous training, and are not just pets, even if they aren’t working 24/7.

      For myself, having given it some thought, I think if asked my dog’s name (which is actually Harry, which he responds to readily from anyone), I’d now be inclined to give his racing name (he’s a rescued/retired racing greyhound). Better that people who don’t know me or my dog would think of my dog as “Wildfire”, a name he won’t respond to, than give them the opportunity to distract my MindDog from his important role.

  5. Being on the Autism Spectrum, I can be a little more forthright than most. I have a MindDog whom I encourage to ignore people & dogs, other than if I feel like interacting with them, even if he’s not in work mode.

    I find it infuriating when I’ve introduced my dog to others whom we later come across in our travels who insist on over-exciting my dog by calling his name, as I’m not big on chit chat or conversations with casual acquaintances.

    What comes to mind as a response to “what’s your dog’s name?” is this: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell you my dogs name, unless you are willing not to use it to distract my dog, who is currently doing her job. If you take your car to a mechanic to get work done, you don’t stand there incessantly calling their name distracting them, so please show me and my dog the same courtesy.”

  6. Tell them your dog doesn’t have a name, then either turn the conversation to another subject or get out your phone and start texting.

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