You have to think very carefully when coming up with a name for your beloved pet. This is the name you’ll be saying all day, every day for the foreseeable future — and it’s one of the few words your furry friend will actually learn. So how do you possibly make such a momentous decision? Well, you could take inspiration from what others have done before you and lean into the most popular pet names from the past 115 years. Luckily for you, we know exactly what those names are.
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery research
The following list is based on an extensive study of the names of animals laid to rest at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York. This resting place is home to more than 80,000 pets and is the oldest continually operating establishment of its kind in the country. The research itself was conducted by website FirstVet, which looked at 25,000 digitized names to draw its conclusions. And the results make for fascinating reading.
Highest regnal number: Virgo XIII
The first wildcard finding that the company found was related to regnal numbers. That is the number you put at the end of an animal’s name when that pet is one in a long line of furry friends who shared the same name. So the animal with the highest regnal number in Hartsdale was Virgo XIII, who was laid to rest in 1986. The runner-up was Silvia IV from 2001.
Honorable mention: Baby
One cat name that cropped up again and again in the 1990s through to today is Baby. FirstVet put this down to the release of Dirty Dancing in 1987 and its iconic “nobody puts Baby in the corner” moment. Yet Baby never quite made it to the top of the rankings in any particular decade. Those honors instead went to some unexpected blasts from the past.
1930s dog names: Queenie
People gave their pets regal names throughout the 20th century — but Queenie is only the top dog name in the 1930s. This seems somewhat strange for a nation that fought for independence from the British, where the monarchy has such a strong presence. And it’s even stranger when the head of state across the pond at the time was King George V.
1940s dog names: Tippy
There is little evidence of any pop culture inspiration to support the rise of Tippy as the most popular dog name in the 1940s. Maybe it was because Marilyn Monroe had called her dog Tippy in the 1930s… but you could argue that Marilyn didn’t really become famous until at least 1950. There was also a long-running Cap Stubbs and Tippie comic strip throughout this period — but not a lot else in the Tippy department.
1950s dog names: Sandy
The name Sandy was rising through the ranks of popularity for both humans and canines in the 1950s. But while it was top of the pops for our four-legged friends, it didn’t reach peak saturation for people until 1960. Our dog-naming tendencies could have been warped by the dog Sandy from the Little Orphan Annie comic strips. Or it could just be that a lot of pups look a bit sandy-colored!
1960s dog names: Lady
FirstVet argued that the popularity of the name Lady in the 1960s marked a rise in regal-sounding names throughout the second half of the 1900s. But could its peak position in the 1960s actually be because there was a Disney movie called Lady and the Tramp in 1955? Who’s to say? There was also, of course, a “Lady” in the White House during this time.
1960s cat names: Cindy
Don’t think we were forgetting about our beloved cat pals. It’s just that FirstVet didn’t provide data on cat names until the 1960s. The number-one moniker during this decade was Cindy — which was also the number-one girl-baby name in 1957. Possible inspirations for the cat-tastic title include the main Who character in 1957’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
1970s dog names: Brandy
It’s possible that two massive songs contributed to the prevalence of the name Brandy in the 1970s. The first was “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” from Looking Glass, and the second was “Brandy” from the O’Jays. It turned out, too, that the O’Jays track was actually about a dog — and not a woman as most people had assumed!
1970s cat names: Ginger
This one probably doesn’t need too much analysis. After all, who doesn’t look at the color of a cat’s fur and immediately think of the name Ginger? But other outside influences may have come in the form of Ginger Rogers or, a little closer to the 1970s, the adorable main character in the hit 1960s show Gilligan’s Island. We bet it’s the fur thing, though…
1980s dog names: Max
Max climbed to the top of the dog-name rankings in the 1980s, and it has remained popular ever since. But what is the reason for this sudden ascent to the throne? Well, it’s hard to say. FirstVet ventured that it could be down to the incredible success of the Mad Max movies from 1979 to 1985. Other pop-culture characters have taken the name throughout the 20th century, too.
1980s cat names: Tiger
Cats hit the Tiger jackpot in the 1980s as the name reached the peak of its popularity. “This might be a legacy of the earliest domesticated cats in America being European ‘tabby’ cats, with distinctive tiger-like striped markings,” FirstVet remarked when announcing its findings. There’s an outside chance the name was also in people’s minds because of the dog in The Brady Bunch.
1990s dog names: Max
Yep, Max held onto its top spot into the 1990s. In fact, the name Max has become so closely associated with dogs that even parents have thought again about naming their children Max. We’ve even seen debates on the subject of whether Max is only a dog’s name posted on various social media sites including Reddit and Mumsnet — but the answers were decidedly mixed.
1990s cat names: Smokey
Smokey was only the ninth-most popular name in the 1980s, but it rose quickly up the ranks to top the charts the following decade. This one seems like it’s an obvious case of people naming their pets in accordance with their color — but it's possible that there were some pop-culture inspirations, too. FirstVet reckons Smokey and the Bandit may have had some influence, for example.
2000s dog names: Max
It turns out that people really, really like the name Max for their dogs. The moniker remained the top pooch name for three decades, according to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery data. And Reader’s Digest magazine reckoned that Max was still the most popular name for dogs in 2020 as well. So it seems as though Max reigns supreme for our furry pals — yet it was not the most popular name when you look at the data across the entire century.
2000s cat names: Smokey
Sometimes when a name is so prevalent among our pets you can see an equivalent peak in humans being named the same thing. But when it comes to Smokey, that just isn’t the case. In fact, the name Smokey hasn’t once cracked the top 1,000 for human names in any year of the Social Security Administration’s data. Perhaps that’s understandable, though. The only Smokey we can think of is “Smokey” Robinson — and that’s not even his real name!
Most popular dog’s name: Princess
Believe it or not, FirstVet said Princess was actually the most popular dog name when you looked the whole 115-year span of the data. That’s despite Max being top of the rankings for the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. And it’s despite Princess never once reaching the top stop in any 20th-century decade. But the name was often in the top ten, and that consistency was enough to earn the crown.
Most popular cat’s name: Tiger
The top cat name in the past 115 years was Tiger, which is perhaps less surprising than the top dog name. The moniker is still pretty popular today, too. A 2011 poll by website VetStreet pegged it as the fourth-most-used male kitty name of that year. Could it have something to do with Winnie The Pooh’s friend Tigger? FirstVet thought so, but we’re still going with the stripy-fur theory.
Most popular overall: Princess
When you look at all the years, though, it’s clear that Princess is really the name to beat for both cats and dogs. The regal title was found on more than one in every 100 tombstones in Hartsdale and has only been getting more popular since the 1980s. This is probably because of the global impact of Princess Diana in that decade, as well as the popular princesses of today.
Digging into the data
The New York Times newspaper did a bit more of a deep dive into the data provided by FirstVet in 2021. The thing to note is that this first study was based on the 25,000 names that had been digitized up until that point. Remember, that is only just over a quarter of the 80,000+ pets buried at Hartsdale. But FirstVet assured The New York Times that the research was sound.
“The numbers are solid”
“With the sizable number of names already digitized, the popularity rankings are unlikely to change significantly,” a FirstVet spokesman told the paper. But it is still a chance that the final rankings could change a little bit here and there. As of yet, though, FirstVet hasn’t posted an update to its findings. It did offer some unique insights, though.
David Prien is the CEO of FirstVet, and he was in touch with The New York Times via email. “Some names are completely unique within Hartsdale Cemetery, such as ‘Dorian Grey’ and ‘Fleetwood,’” he wrote to the paper. That seems like a notable achievement, considering how many dearly departed pets there are in the age-old resting place! It’s not just cats and dogs in the cemetery, either.
Goldfleck the lion
A lion named Goldfleck made his way to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery after shuffling off his mortal coil in 1912. He wasn’t just any old lion, mind you. Goldfleck used to live at New York’s famous Plaza Hotel. He belonged to Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy, who had once been married to a Russian prince. The princess “sincerely mourned” the loss of Goldfleck, according to his tombstone.
Reading between the tombstones
The way people have inscribed the tombstones of their pets has changed over the years, too. Some of the startling expressions of grief and love include one pet being called “the love of my life” and another deemed as “irreplaceable.” The New York Times spoke to tour guide Allison C. Meier about this fascinating phenomenon and what it says about us as a culture.
Best friends forever
“The way that people refer to their pets changes,” Meier told the paper. “On a lot of old dog graves, they call them a gentleman — like, ‘He’s a great gentleman. He lived like a gentleman.’” A dog called Sport was even noted as having been “born a dog” but having “died a gentleman.” And this outpouring of love for our pets is by no means a modern trend.
Going way back
The cemetery goes back to the 19th century, of course. But that’s probably because it was this century that finally saw Americans domesticating their pets. Previously, cats and dogs had been left to roam the outdoors. So now that the animals were inside, the bond between humans and animals only became stronger. The idea of burying pets, however, was still controversial.
No pets allowed
Meier told The New York Times about a woman called Rose Howe. In 1881 Howe lost her pet pug, Fannie, and decided to bury the pup in her family’s burial plot in Brooklyn. “People thought it was rather disrespectful,” said Meier. So disrespectful, in fact, that Green-Wood Cemetery later prohibited pets from being interred on its grounds.
A place to grieve
That’s why places such as Hartsdale have become so significant to people. Some humans have even been so devastated by the loss of their four-legged friends that they’ve taken extreme decisions. “It was so important for some people that they stay together that they decided to be interred in a pet cemetery,” Meier told The New York Times.
Love is all around
Meier thinks part of the reason for Hartsdale’s popularity is that it gives people an acceptable outlet for their feelings. “You don’t get the same kind of treatment when your dog died as when your brother dies, of course, or when your friend dies,” she said. “I think people have a hard time finding a basis for that grief. In pet cemeteries, you’re able to express in whatever way is meaningful to you.”