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HomeHealth and LifestyleIt’s Brutus, Not Bruno! The Etiquette of Remembering Your Friends’ Pets’ Names.

It’s Brutus, Not Bruno! The Etiquette of Remembering Your Friends’ Pets’ Names.


Kiyomi Lowe regularly hears people mispronounce her name or sometimes forget it altogether. “I get Naomi, Kaiomi, sometimes Kimmy,” she said. It doesn’t bother her: “I’ll respond to anything.”

She is less forgiving when friends and acquaintances forget the name of her dog, a shar-pei. “I get Bruno a lot,” she said. To which she responds: “‘No, it’s Brutus!’ The dog doesn’t care. But I care for the dog.”

Ms. Lowe is a stylist at Al’s Barber Shop, a popular six-chair salon in Boulder near the campus of the University of Colorado. On a recent morning, she fell into a spirited conversation with her fellow stylists and several customers over a delicate question: Should you be responsible for remembering the name of a friend’s pet? What’s the etiquette?

“A big question,” said Jen Himes, a stylist, who conceded that she sometimes made a naming mistake, which pained her. “I’ve gotten a lot of pet names wrong. I’m, like, ‘How’s Pookie?’ And they’re, like, ‘It’s Rufus!’ or whatever.”

“Most people laugh,” she said. “But some people are, like, ‘That’s offensive.’”

When it comes down to it, she added, there is a pretty good way to determine if you are obligated to remember a pet’s name. “It depends how important the pet is to your friend,” she said.

There was general agreement with that assessment in the barbershop (which happens to be the reporter’s regular one). The conversation mostly revolved around dogs, which, several people said, are different from other pets in that they are taken on walks and get out and about, and so deserve more name recognition than more private animal companions.

“That’s cat discrimination!” objected Ms. Himes. She laughed and suggested that she wasn’t all that worried about it. Even she doesn’t always stick to her own tuxedo cat’s name, Cosmos.

“I call her Kitty,” she said.

Al’s Barbershop is owned by Al Urbanowski, who identified another key factor in determining whether you should remember the name of a friend’s pet: how important the friend is to you. Mr. Urbanowski, 58, still remembers Whiskey, the name of his best friend’s dog when he was 9. Mr. Urbanowski now lives in a neighborhood full of dogs, he said, and his passing relationship with neighbors makes it hard to remember the names of dogs and humans alike.

Your interpersonal connections change with age, he noted, and that changes what you can and should be responsible for remembering. When he was 25, Mr. Urbanowski said, dogs joined the hikes and other social outings that he went on with friends and were a big part of those friendships.

“When I started having kids, the dog names didn’t roll off the tongue,” he said. Remembering a dog’s name “is still a priority, but it got pushed down.”

The group in the barbershop said that some responsibility did fall on the person trying to remember the friend’s pet’s name, but some responsibility might also belong to the pet-owning friend, who could pick a pet name that was easy to recall.

“The funnier the name is, the easier it is to remember,” Ms. Lowe said. “Like Derek.”

Derek is memorable? Yes, she insisted.

“Luke Skywalker,” offered Ms. Himes, recalling one name of a client’s dog that stayed with her.

“Big Tuna,” said Madisyn Crandell, a stylist at Al’s, referring to the name of one of her mother’s two English bulldogs. (The other, Lucy, was deemed by the group to possess a less memorable name.)

“Doug,” said Jason Owens, who stood loyally nearby as his 11-year-old son, Ryder, got a haircut. Doug was the name of a friend’s Corgi. “How can I forget a name like Doug,” Mr. Owens said. But maybe he’d forget Doug if it were a person’s name, he added.

Recently, the Owens family’s Rottweiler, Derby, died. Mr. Owens said most friends didn’t remember Derby’s name, but they were good about remembering his nickname, Cheeky.

“She was the sweetest dog,” Mr. Owens said. “Dumb as rocks, but the sweetest dog.” He didn’t at all mind if his friends also called Derby dumb. “I’d be, like, ‘Yeah, you’re right: She’s dumb as rocks.’”

Others have trouble getting past a forgotten pet name. Christian Huerta, a receptionist at Al’s with a pit bull mix named Frida, had one friend who repeatedly called her dog Freya. Ms. Huerta devised a plan.

“I texted her multiple times when she was coming over, and I said, ‘Frida is excited to see you’ — like, I’d spell out Frida,” Ms. Huerta said. “And my friend was like, ‘Freya!’ And I was upset.”

Ms. Huerta reflected on that. “Maybe it’s not so serious,” she said. “Maybe I’m too sensitive.” She then likened it to forgetting something else important, such as a birthday.

“I guess it bothers me because I love my dog so much,” she said.


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