The coveted "Best in Show" title at this week's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was snagged by a Kerry blue terrier named Ch. Torums Scarf Michael. Other top entrants included Ch. Set'R Ridge Wyndswept In Gold; Ch. Yakee Leaving Me BreathlessAtFranshaw; and Ch. Luxor's Playmate Of The Year. What does the doggy set have against classic names like "Fido" and "Spike"?
Nothing, really. In fact, Ch. Torums Scarf Michael is most commonly referred to by his simple "call name," Mick; address him by the longer appellation, and there's no guarantee he'll come running. The multisyllabic tongue-twisters are the formal names submitted to the American Kennel Club, with which every Westminster competitor must be registered.
Only purebred dogs merit AKC papers and are thus allowed to register a name no longer than 25 letters (including apostrophes and spaces). So, an extended, slightly aristocratic-sounding name is a badge of honor among dog aficionados—a symbol that their canine is a cut above the common mutt. The names are also often intensely personal, referring to a dog's hygienic habits, a deceased loved one, or a favorite fictional character.
Other naming guidelines include a ban on Arabic numerals, as well as the words "stud," "sire," "male," and "female." The prefix "Ch." is an abbreviation for "Champion," denoting that the dog in question has won at least 2 major show titles overseen by different judges; every entrant at Westminster, the Olympics of the dog circuit, must be a champion. Some dogs also bear suffixes referring to their acumen in "field trials," competitions in which dogs are judged on their ability to perform tasks rather than on pure beauty. The suffix appended to Ch. Magic Sir-ly You Jest JH, a Brittany, indicates that he's a junior hunter.
Oftentimes, the first word of a dog's name makes reference to the kennel where he or she was bred. This year's champ's first name, Torum, is a celebrated British kennel. Also, words are sometimes intentionally misspelled to wiggle them into the 25-letter guidelines, or to avoid repetition with another dog. (Thus the abundance of y's in lieu of i's.) And cheeky professional breeders sometimes go the theme route, naming an entire litter after varieties of candy or cheesy pop tunes.
The dogs' informal call names, strangely enough, often have nothing to do with the registered name. There's a connection between Ch. Torum's Scarf Michael and his call name, Mick. But Ch. Braeburn's Close Encounter's call name is "Shannon," and only the owners know why.