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The naming of dogs in Ancient Greece

Imagine that you lived in ancient Greece. You decided to get a dog, what name would you give it? That is why there was the "science" of choosing and naming a puppy.

A mosaic of Hercules with pet Cerberus

A mosaic of Hercules with pet Cerberus

The training of a new dog begins at 20 months, but the puppy needs a good name from the beginning. Xenophon, a Greek historian, wrote about hunting dogs in the fourth century BC. He held that the best names were short, one or two syllables, so they could be easily pronounced. No Greek hunting dog was named somehow like Thrasyvoulos or Thucydides! The meaning of the name was very important to the psychology of the dog. Names expressed speed, courage, strength, appearance and other values. Xenophon himself called his favorite dog "Ormi" which is translated as momentum or rush.

Greek rhyton in the shape of a dog's head, made by Brygos, early 5th century BC.

Greek rhyton in the shape of a dog's head, made by Brygos, early 5th century BC.

Atalanta, the famous huntress of Greek mythology, named her dog Aura. An ancient Greek vase from 560 BC shows Atalanta with other heroes and their dogs slaying the great boar of Caledonia. Seven dog names are engraved on the vase (some violating Xenophon's law) Ormitikos, Methepon, Egertis, Korax, Marpsas, Lambros, and Evolos.

We must not forget Argos, the faithful dog of Odysseus, who, before his death, recognized his master after twenty whole years.

The Roman poet Ovidius (Publius Ovidius Naso) gives the names of the 36 dogs of Aktaion, the unfortunate hunter of Greek mythology, who was torn from his herd, including the Tiger, Lailapa, Aeolus and Arkas. Polydefkis mentions another 15 names in a list found at Koloumellas. The most comprehensive, however, was written by the lover of these animals, Xenophon. Famous names were: Leukos(White), Melanos(Black), Anthos(Flower), Thyella(Storm), Thireutis(Predator), Skaftias, Phylax(Guardian), and several others.

Alexander the Great honored his faithful dog Peritas by naming a city after him. Greek and Roman writers remind their readers to praise their faithful four-legged companions. Arrian, the historian of the Macedonian campaign, writes: You should touch the dog's head, stroke it by gently pulling on its ears, and say its name or say a few encouraging phrases like well done, good dog. After all, dogs are just as happy to receive encouragement as honest people.