Karen B. London
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Bo Obama
Adorable puppy, less-than-ideal name
President Barack Obama with Bo at the White House.

President Obama has had many opportunities to comment on his own name. I laughed when he joked that “Barack” means “that one” and when he kidded around that he got the name “Obama” from his Dad, but that “Hussein” came from somebody who obviously thought that he would never run for President. Clearly, he knows that a name is important.

At least he knows that for people. By now, we’ve all read about his new Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, who apparently was named partly as a reference to the fact that his father-in-law had the nickname “Diddley.” Naming new family members with respect to other relatives is charming, and I generally encourage it. However, a side effect of this particular naming is that the poor dog’s name rhymes with “No.”

Dogs are often startled into stopping or at least pausing in undesirable behavior by sudden exclamations of “No!” or “Hey!” which is why I always encourage clients to avoid names that sound too much like either one. It can be quite confusing for a dog to think he hears his name said in an abrupt way, which is the way that “No!” is most often said to puppies. Ideally, puppies should associate their name with feeling good, not with feeling startled.

Barack Obama is thriving in spite of various nomenclature challenges. Let’s hope the same good fortune follows the adorable Bo. Here are some tips on naming a dog.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

White House photo by Pete Souza.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Charlie | April 15 2009 |

Why did our good President change his puppy's name from Charlie to Bo? I don't understand it. I'm confused, and, I confess, more than a little hurt. Charlie is a perfectly decent name. Nobody should ever be ashamed of being called Charlie. Charlie is a good name. Charlie is a great name. A name of kings — and many other important cultural figures. Charlie Brown. Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chan. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie the Tuna. I could go on, but you get it. I respect the President and his family's choice, of course, but I will be sad that we don't have "Charlie the dog" in the White House.

Charlie from Seattle

Submitted by Kathy Konetzka-Close | April 16 2009 |

Hey, Charlie in Seattle! I married a Charlie in Seattle. :D And I agree with you completely--Charlie would have been a lovely name for the first dog. I also agree with the author that the importance of naming your new best friend can't be overstated. Without getting graphic, this point was brought home to me many years ago, after naming our then-puppy, "Jack". Seems innocuous enough, doesn't it? However, our trainer was very clear about the difference between "down" and "off" and she also liked to use the dog's name prior to giving the proper command. You can see how that might end up going--we laughed about it til the end of Jack's days. He was such a funny little guy anyway, that I was sure he was in on the joke.
Best wishes to the Obamas with their new pup, and a shout out to my adopted hometown of Seattle, WA!!

Submitted by Anonymous | April 16 2009 |

Good point Dr. Karen!
I suspect from the things I've read about the Obama's, neither Michelle nor Barack have much experience with dogs. This means there are likely to be many things we experienced dog lovers will find unfortunate, discouraging, and disappointing about the first family's relationship and choices for its newest member. I wonder if the trainer they hired didn't want to point out the conflict with Bo's name, for fear of embarrasing the first family.
I thought Sasha's comment about her new dog's inability to swim made perfect sense for a seven year old-he's a Portuguese Water Dog.
Perhaps a feature for an upcoming edition of "The Bark," could be tips from readers for Bo and his new family, gently given, of course.

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