Thurber’s Tail: How NOT to Name a Puppy!

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Friends turned on friends.

Family members spoke ill of other family members.

Strangers on social media wrote posts that are unprintable in most newspapers.

That’s what happened 21 months ago when I asked people for advice on what to name my new puppy.

At First, His Name Was Willy

During the eight weeks they nurtured my puppy and his eight siblings, his breeders, Mike and Maryanne, gave each of them a temporary name. They named my future puppy “Willy.”

He wasn’t the smallest in the litter, nor the largest. He wasn’t the best looking, nor the worst.

He was the most laid back, however.

Whereas some of the pups were clearly Type A personalities — bossy and demanding and way too smart, energetic and alert — my guy was sleepy and silly and happy to stand back from the pack.

“Willy” really was a good name for this pup and I was tempted to keep it.

But I had always had a name in mind for a puppy that I had stumbled upon decades earlier.

A Thurber Carnival

When I was in the 10th grade, in 1978, my best friend Ayresie and I found a paperback book on a shelf in his basement that had the cover torn off.

I’d later learn the book was called “A Thurber Carnival,” a collection of observations, short stories and, best of all, funny cartoons, produced back in the 1930s and 1940s by the famous New Yorker magazine humorist James Thurber.

The cartoons and captions were offbeat and original. Ayresie and I laughed out loud as we thumbed through the book looking at them.

Homework soon beckoned for Ayresie — unlike me, he was a dedicated student and went on to graduate from West Point — and I agreed to go to the local library with him so he could research a paper.

We took “A Thurber Carnival” with us.

Ayresie didn’t get much work done though because I kept pointing out the funny cartoons and captions and reading them to him.

We laughed out loud so often we got repeated warnings from the librarian to “keep it down.”

Then I came across a short story called “The Dog that Bit People.”

It’s about one of the many dogs that Thurber, a life-long dog lover, especially loved, even though this dog had a penchant for biting people.

The dog’s name was “Muggs.”

“There was one advantage to being a family member,” Thurber wrote, “Muggs didn’t bite family members as often as he bit strangers.”

Ayresie and I laughed so hard at that line the librarian finally kicked us out.

But I didn’t care, because that moment transformed my life.

James Thurber’s mastery with words and humor inspired me at that exact moment to become a writer.

Thurber shares his love of dogs throughout “A Thurber Carnival” and his other books, which I have read over and again. His humorous and affectionate drawings of the many pups he shared his life with are pure joy.

His writings and sketches would eventually leave me with another thought:

If I ever get a dog, I’m going to name him “Thurber.”

Passions Run High

“Thurber! You can’t name him Thurber!” shouted my otherwise soft-spoken sister, who had named her own dog “Snowball.”

“What the heck kind of name is Thurber?” said my friend, Griff, who has a Jack Russel named “Chip.”

“You need to name him a short, manly name like ‘Sam’ or ‘Jake’ or anything but a goofy name like ‘Thurber,’ you imbecile,” was the gist of the posts strangers left on my social media feeds.

Though some of the comments I was getting could be considered rude and belligerent, they were not without merit.

According to The Scotsman, “Max” is the most popular name for male dogs on the planet.

That is followed by nine other top names that include “Charlie,” “Buddy,” “Rocky,” “Jack,” “Milo,” “Toby,” Leo,” “Rex” and “Bruno.”

Though I love all of these names, I wanted to give my pup a more original name — one that related back to the very funny writings of James Thurber.

“Muggs,” the name of the dog that bit people, was one I’d considered.

“Now you’re talking,” said Griff. “‘Muggs.’ I dig it.”

“ ‘Muggsie!’ ” said my sister Lisa. “You have to name him something cute and ‘Muggsie’ is perfect.”

But I didn’t want to name my dog after a surly mutt who bit people.

I had considered “Rex,” too, since Thurber and his brothers had given that name to one of their many dogs.

But when it came right down to it, I had known what I’d name my future pup since that day in 1978 when Ayresie and I got booted from the library.

I Named Him “Thurber”

Despite my over-thinking and indecision, I kept coming back to the name “Thurber.”

I’ve always loved the sound of the name — the soft “thurrrrr” followed by the decisive “brrrrrr!”

Besides, my pup shared the warm, lovable look of many of the dogs James Thurber affectionately sketched.

As I said, he was unlike the other pups in his litter. He was content to sit in the background, observing his litter mates — much as his human, a writer, prefers to do.

Truth be told, I thought it would be pretty fun to probably have the only dog in the world named Thurber.

So naming him after one of America’s great humorists was definitely the way to go.

I called Mike and Maryanne and asked them to call my pup by his new name, and to do so immediately.

“ ‘Thurber’ it is,” said Mike.

(Share comments about how you named your dog at this blog link: www.ThurbersTail.com/dogname.)

But He Wasn’t the Only Dog Named Thurber  

When Thurber was nearly 18 months old — as he blossomed, his name most definitely reflected his inquisitive, playful, silly nature — my Uncle Bert called me.

“Your dog isn’t the only dog to go by the name of ‘Thurber,’ “ he said.

“He’s not?” I said, a little disappointed.

“In the 1960s, a famous singer gave one of her beloved dogs the very same name,” Uncle Bert said.

“Which famous singer?”

When he told me, I laughed out loud.

She is one of my favorite musicians of all time: Janis Joplin.

According to a New York Times article, she was a dog lover throughout her life and also named one of her beloved pups after the great humorist, Thurber.

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Tom Purcell is creator of ThurbersTail.com, which shares helpful pet-care tips and funny stories and videos featuring Tom’s beloved Labrador, Thurber. Email Tom at [email protected]