Kgomotso Matsunyane

A dog by any other name...

2008-08-07 08:33

Kgomotso Matsunyane

Comedian Ndumiso Lindi tells a joke about how black and white people name their dogs so differently. In his observation, white people name their dogs with people's names, like Suzie or Peter or John.

According to him, black people name their dogs after vicious things like Danger, Tiger or Killer. He's a comedian, so obviously his observations and intentions are to elicit laughter, but it got me thinking, what drives the rest of us to name our dogs?

My friend Eve has new neighbours with two dogs named Thabo and Becky. Cute, in that very sarcastic kind of way. And then she told me that her sister once got a dog and named it Mandela - the family was so outraged that the dog's name just simply had to go. I think the family was right.

So I was left wondering about how and why we name our dogs the names that we do, and why some names are cross the lines of bad taste or are even racist. Dogs are supposed to be man's best friend, so general wisdom would have it that we name our dogs out of love. Right? Well, yes and no.

Dogs are from heaven, bitches are from Hell

While we may love our dogs, a dog is also exactly just that, a dog. When women call men a dog, I guarantee it does not come from a place of love and affection. On the other hand in popular culture when men call each other dog, it's to say "you're the man".

If you call a woman a bitch, however, it's only a (dog's) breath away from calling her a slut; and that's because you pretty much hate her guts.

So ostensibly, it's a compliment to be called a dog (which can only refer to men), but it is an absolute insult to call a woman a bitch. What gives?

Well, I'd argue that intention is everything. Take for instance my new Hungarian friend who has a dog called Zulu. My knee jerk reaction was to be suspicious, but then she explained that her dog is a special breed called the Hungarian Vizsla, and that in South Africa there is only one place that breeds them, which is located in KwaZulu-Natal, so for her it was to honour her dog's origins, so to speak.

I advised her not to walk the dog near a hostel, because while I personally might be understanding, some may not be as accepting. My friend Dumi on the other hand named his Chihuahua Tony Leon, when he was still the leader of the Democratic Alliance (the man, not the dog). He named the dog one, for the comedy factor (and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't laugh), and secondly, to make a political point about his feelings for Mr Leon.

I myself have two Rottweillers named Alex(andra) and Scar(amouche). Scar got his name because he looked like such a rascal and I'd recently watched the movie Scaramouche on the The Classic Movie Channel, and my ex named the girl Alex because I couldn't come up with a name I felt particularly strong about.

While theoretically we live in a "free" country, our history has made us all quite prickly and sensitive. We should all be able to call our dogs what we want I suppose, but just beware that you will may judged (very harshly) on it.

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a dog lover, a writer, producer and partner at T.O.M. Pictures, an award-winning Film and TV Production company in Jo'burg.

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