Medieval Dog Names. History’s Most Unique & Whimsical Monikers

Introduction

Medieval people named their dogs using a variety of conventions and sources for inspiration. While some medieval dog names may sound unusual or even humorous today, they often carried special meaning or symbolism for medieval people. Names were frequently chosen to reflect a dog’s appearance, personality, abilities or purpose. Hunting dogs, lapdogs, guard dogs and herding dogs would all be given names suiting their roles. Regional naming differences also existed across medieval Europe. Over time, trends and preferences in dog naming evolved, as new influences arose and ideas spread between different areas. To fully understand medieval dog names, we must view them in their broader historical context rather than apply our modern perspectives.

Popular Name Sources

Medieval dog owners drew inspiration for names from a variety of sources. Some of the most popular included:

Names from nobility – Dogs were often named after kings, queens, nobles, and other members of the aristocracy. Names like Richard, Henry, Edward, Eleanor, and Isabella were common for dogs owned by medieval peasants and commoners.

Geographical names – Location names were frequently bestowed on dogs. Examples include Lincoln, York, Brittany, London, and Paris. This allowed the dog’s name to reflect its city or region of origin.

Physical traits – Medieval dogs were often named for their appearance, based on coat color, size or other attributes. Common examples are Blackie, Brownie, Shorty, and Longtail.

Occupations – Some medieval working dogs were named after occupations and roles, like Hunter, Falconer, Shepherd, or Drover.

Names for Hunting Dogs

Hunting dogs had specific purposes during medieval times, so their names often reflected their roles. As working dogs, hunting hounds were usually given short, punchy names that could be used as commands while out in the field.[1] Some common examples were Skip, Bounce, True, Bonny, and Bess.[2] While longer descriptive names were also sometimes used, hunters preferred names of one or two syllables that could be shouted quickly and clearly.

a medieval hunter calling out commands to his hunting dogs.

Names that described the dog’s appearance, skills, or personality were popular. Dogs with a good sense of smell might be called Snuffler or Searcher. Swift dogs could be named Swallow, Wing, or Wind. Other descriptive names like Wagtail, Bushtail, Owdacious, and Hardite refer to the dog’s looks and temperament.

Regardless of length, medieval hunting dog names aimed to suit each individual hound. The names helped hunters identify and control their dogs while hunting prey like hares, deer, boars, and foxes.

[1] https://tudortreasures.net/medieval-dog-names/
[2] https://www.openculture.com/2022/11/a-list-of-1065-medieval-dog-names-nosewise-garlik-havegoodday-more.html

Names for Lapdogs and Companions

Small dogs that were kept as pets and companions often had more elaborate, human-style names compared to hunting dogs. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, some popular pet dog names included “Little Hammer”, “Fortuna”, and “Bo” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/in-medieval-times-popular-dog-names-included-little-hammer-fortuna-and-bo-2316318/). An analysis of medieval texts found additional fanciful names like “Sturdy”, “Whitefoot”, “Hardy”, and “Amiable” (https://www.openculture.com/2022/11/a-list-of-1065-medieval-dog-names-nosewise-garlik-havegoodday-more.html). These types of human names reflected the close bonds between medieval pet owners and their small companion dogs.

Regional Differences

There were notable differences in how medieval people named their dogs based on the country or region they lived in. In England, hunting breeds often received names related to the hunt, like Hunter, Chase, or Bowman. Scenthounds were given descriptive names like Nosewise or Sniffer. Meanwhile lapdogs and companion breeds had more fanciful names like Trippe, Curteys, or Havegoodday.

In France, hounds were often given short single syllable names that were easy to shout loudly during hunts, like Dax, Fex, Pax, Rox. Small companion dogs had names referencing their size like Petit, Tiny, or Wee.

Across the Italian peninsula, many dogs were named after plants and flowers, like Rosmarino, Merlo, or Viola. Italians also liked to give dogs human style names like Paulo, Julio, or Nina. Germanic regions favored mythological names like Wodin and Freya, or virtues like Steadfast and Winner.

Spanish and Portuguese medieval dogs often received religious names like Santa or Bishop. Regal names like Duque, Infante, Rey were also common. Hungarians used their deep history of mythic names like Atilla, Csaba, Eniko. Eastern European regions had names representing desired traits like Zizka (“blind”) or Hroznata (“grumpy”).

Name Trends Over Time

map showing differences in dog names across medieval europe.

The types of names that medieval people gave their dogs changed significantly from the early to the late medieval period. In the early medieval era (5th to 10th centuries), many dogs were simply named for their purpose or work, such as “Hunter,” “Herder,” or “Guardian.” Functional names like these were common for dogs that had working roles assisting their owners.

In the High Middle Ages (11th to 13th centuries), we begin to see more pet dogs, especially among the nobility and rising merchant class. Lapdogs and companion dogs were given fancier names like “Beauty,” “Jewel,” or “Sweetheart.” Regional trends emerged as well, with French-influenced names like “Fleur” becoming popular in England after the Norman Conquest.

By the Late Middle Ages (14th to 15th centuries), dogs were being given more human-style names. Many were named after saints, like “Bartholomew” or “Francis.” Biblical names also became fashionable, with dogs called “Delilah,” “Samson,” or “Esther.” Literature began influencing dog names too, with dogs named after characters from poems and plays. The increase in human-style names reflects dogs being seen more as companions and less as just working animals at this time.

Across all periods, hounds and other hunting dogs tended to have more functional, descriptive names reflecting their skill and purpose, like “Tracker” or “Sniffer.” The trend toward more fanciful, human-style names emerged primarily among the toy breeds and lapdogs kept by the wealthy and noble classes as pampered companions.

Literary References

Writers in medieval times often included dogs as characters in their literary works. Analyzing names of dogs that appeared in medieval books, poems, and plays provides insight into popular dog names of that era. For example, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale includes a widowed woman’s dog named Colle. In John Gower’s Confessio Amantis from the late 1300s, the names Garland, Ringwood, and Rex are mentioned. Prominent medieval writer William Langland’s Piers Plowman features a dog named Pride. Christopher Marlowe’s poem Hero and Leander references a lapdog named Peescod. Prominent lapdog names like Tiny and Busy also show up in medieval plays and texts.

References:
https://www.openculture.com/2022/11/a-list-of-1065-medieval-dog-names-nosewise-garlik-havegoodday-more.html
https://tudortreasures.net/medieval-dog-names/

Meanings Behind Names

Medieval people often chose dog names that symbolized desirable qualities or reflected the dog’s purpose. For example, hunting dogs were given names like Stykefaste for a greyhound, meaning “strong in pursuit,” or Sturdy for a terrier, suggesting its tenacity 1. Names for lapdogs and companion dogs sometimes indicated pampering, like Wellyfedde (“well fed”) or Solace meaning “comfort.”

Other names were more fanciful, drawing on medieval poetry and literature. Names like Amiable (“friendly”), Nosewise (“keen sense of smell”), or Bragge (“braggart”) suggested the dog’s personality. Literary names like Troy or Terri (after the knight Terri of Trois Frères) connected the dogs to popular stories and legends 2. These names reveal how medieval people humanized their dogs by giving them names rich in meaning and symbolism.

medieval manuscript showing dogs with symbolic names.

Famous Named Dogs

There are a few well-known medieval dogs that have left their mark and given rise to popular namesakes. According to https://www.hepper.com/medieval-dog-names/, some of the most famous include:

Failinis – This Irish hound was believed to belong to 4th century ruler, King Conn of the Hundred Battles. Stories say Failinis helped the king win many battles and the name became popular for Irish Wolfhounds thereafter.

Talbot – Talbot became a common name for hunting hounds during the Middle Ages, especially the Talbot breed. References to Talbots appear in medieval literature, including in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Petitcreiu – Petitcreiu was the name of a small lapdog kept by 14th century French princess, Joan of Bourbon. The name Petitcreiu signified the dog’s role as a pet.

These medieval canines left lasting legacies through their unique names. Their popularity demonstrates how medieval people often named their dogs after famous hounds of the era.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can see that medieval people named their dogs based on several key factors. For hunting dogs, their names often reflected their abilities or jobs, with names like Harrier, Brache, and Talbot for hounds used in the hunt. Small companion dogs often received more fanciful names like Tykel, Trynket, and Wowwow.

There were also some notable regional differences, with certain names being more popular in particular areas of Europe. Over time, name trends shifted as certain types of dogs grew more prominent. Literary references demonstrate some of the most popular dog names of the medieval period.

The meanings behind the names also provide insight into how medieval people viewed and valued their canine companions. While many details are lost to history, we can piece together an understanding of this unique aspect of medieval culture through the names they bestowed upon their dogs.

examples of medieval dog names on scroll banners.

The key takeaways are that medieval dog names reflected the dogs’ roles and abilities, regional tastes, time period, and the meanings ascribed to them by their human owners. Though much remains uncertain, the names provide a window into medieval relationships between humans and their canine friends.

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