This article was first published February 13, 2019, at sportingclassicsdaily.com.
Naming a dog is serious business. Naming a bird dog, more serious still. There are so many subtleties to consider when christening a canine that a man often needs help doing it. An anonymous pup is usually good for a solid week’s worth of argument at the local coffee shop. Why, just last summer an outdoor writer and television personality with whom this website is well familiar sponsored a contest through his website, complete with prize package, soliciting a name for a new German Shorthair.
I’ve known men to agonize more over naming a bird dog than naming their children. My own father wanted to name his brood after famous firearms manufacturers – Browning, Ruger, Remington. Nothing says masculinity like being named after something that goes boom. Mom ruined his brilliant plan, though, with a single and simple question: “But honey, what if we have a baby girl?” No father wants to name his daughter Franchi, and when the realization dawned on dear old dad that he might have to, he washed his hands of the matter and turned the whole process over to his better half. He didn’t dare relinquish his dog naming rights, though.
The best bird dog names are easy to both whisper and wail. No other animal can elicit the wheedling tones of a grown man, begging his dog to cooperate. Those tones grow incrementally harsher, though, the longer said dog refuses. That’s why bird dog names are usually only a single syllable long, especially in the South where singles tend to stretch into doubles, anyway. It’s also the reason bird dogs aren’t given middle names, even though the use of a middle name often communicates best the sentiment a frustrated hunter needs to express. Nicknames are permitted, so long as they meet the aforementioned criteria and don’t require the hunter’s mother to wash his mouth out with soap.
Among others, I’ve hunted with Spot and Rex and Tex, and to varying degrees, they’ve all been solid pointers and retrievers. Dad once had an English Setter named Mickey, but that dog wasn’t much count. Probably because of his double-syllabled name. The two dogs I’ve hunted with most were Sam and Star, and they perfectly illustrate the bird hunter’s single syllable naming strategy.
Sam had a taste for toads, and he spent more time with them in his mouth than he did the quail he was meant to retrieve, but he was an affable pup all the same. His faithful owner, Mike, probably because he was embarrassed for his wart-tongued pooch, kept his reprimands constant but quiet and clipped. “Spit out that frog, Sam.” His tone was always businesslike early but begging late. To this day, anytime I see the tiny tracks of a traveling covey I mutter under my breath, “Spit out that frog, Sam.”
Star was an eager hound, full of the energy and excitement for which bird dogs are famous. Four of us were hunting either side of a drainage ditch topped off with tumbleweeds when Star locked down on point. We all shouldered our scatterguns, but when no birds flushed we each took another step closer to the ditch’s edge. Just as we did, the tumbleweeds parted, revealing the business end of a skunk. That step closer we’d taken turned into a two-step backwards, and the skunk was promptly shot dead by Star’s owner, Bobby T. The dog then did exactly what she’d been trained to do and retrieved the animal. Or rather, she tried to. If I close my eyes for more than a minute, I can still see Bobby T. streaking across a field of wheat stubble, being chased by his confused canine and her white striped prize. Echoes of “Drop that skunk, Star!” still ride the western Oklahoma wind. Bobby T.’s protestations began with a wail, but the farther he ran the more pitiful he became. Never before or since have I heard the two tones mixed as successfully as they were that day.
“Spit out that frog, Sam.”
“Drop that skunk, Star!”
One single syllabled name, short and sweet. And when the occasion calls for it, sometimes sour.
Now that dog’ll hunt.