The most popular pet name of the century (maybe)
By Ezra Marcus
Americans naming their pets Princess is as reliable as death and taxes — at least according to a survey of pet names from the oldest continually operating pet cemetery in the United States.
That resting place is Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, in Hartsdale, New York. It was founded in 1896 and is home to more than 80,000 buried pets.
A survey of its tombstones, conducted by a veterinary company called FirstVet, found that, on average, more than 1 in 100 animals interred there were named Princess. The conclusions were drawn from a data set of names that the cemetery provided.
FirstVet is also digitizing the burial records, which is “an ongoing process, with around 25,000 names digitally recorded to date,” David Prien, a founder and the CEO of FirstVet, wrote in an email. (In an email, a spokesperson for FirstVet clarified that “with the sizable number of names already digitized, the popularity rankings are unlikely to change significantly.”)
Among the findings was the discovery that the top cat name is Tiger. (Princess, though the most popular name overall, is nonetheless only the top moniker for dogs.)
“This might be a legacy of the earliest domesticated cats in America being European ‘tabby’ cats, with distinctive tiger-like striped markings,” proposed the FirstVet study.
Also, according to the survey, the most common dog names in the 1930s and 1940s were Queenie and Tippy; Lady ruled the 1960s, and Brandy rose to the top in the 1970s. The ’80s, ’90s and aughts were all dominated by Max, a trend that FirstVet suggested in a news release might be linked to the popularity of the “Mad Max” film series. (The study also proposed that the prevalence of Smokey, the most popular cat name during the ’90s and ’00s, could have a connection to the 1977 Burt Reynolds film “Smokey and the Bandit.”)
Of course, there has always been plenty of individuality in pet naming. While Princess and Max each came up “between 150 and 250 times in the sample shared,” wrote Prien, “some names are completely unique within Hartsdale Cemetery, such as ‘Dorian Grey’ and ‘Fleetwood.’”
The cemetery is even home to the remains of Goldfleck, a lion who died in 1912 after living at the Plaza Hotel in New York City as the pet of Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy, the ex-wife of a Russian prince.
Some owners gave a series of their pets the same name, followed by a number that indicated the pet’s place in the lineage, known as a regnal number. The highest regnal number in the cemetery belongs to Virgo XIII, who was buried in 1986, followed by Silvia IV in 2001.
According to Allison C. Meier, a writer and licensed New York City sightseeing guide who gives tours of the city’s cemeteries, including Hartsdale, pet cemeteries provide a historical record of wider cultural shifts around our relationship to pets.
“The way that people refer to their pets changes,” Meier said in an interview. “On a lot of old dog graves, they call them a gentleman — like, ‘He’s a great gentleman. He lived like a gentleman.’”
In the 19th century, Americans began bringing pets, which formerly lived primarily outdoors, into their homes, Meier said. The shift sparked new heights of familial love and affection between pets and owners. It also led to raised hackles among humans over pet burial practices.
In 1881, a wealthy widow named Rose Howe buried her pug, Fannie Howe, in the family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, after an elaborate funeral involving a glass-top coffin.
“People thought it was rather disrespectful,” said Meier. The cemetery subsequently banned pet burials.
Cemeteries like Hartsdale opened across the country around the dawn of the 20th century, offering pets a final resting place commensurate with the mourning needs of their owners.
Some owners even chose to be buried at the pet cemetery, since they could not be buried alongside their pets at human cemeteries, Meier said: “It was so important for some people that they stay together that they decided to be interred in a pet cemetery.”
Perhaps more universally, pet cemeteries allowed people to “openly express this grief that isn’t really accepted as much elsewhere,” Meier said. “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.”
“I think people have a hard time finding basis for that grief,” she added. “In pet cemeteries, you’re able to express in whatever way is meaningful to you.”