I know that some Greeks and Romans kept pet canēs, cattī, and even dracōnēs. My question now is: what did they name them?

In other words, do we have attestations of how the ancients named their pets? And if so, was there any sort of pattern behind it? (For instance, were they named like humans, or with adjectives, or something else?)

3 Answers 3


Martial wrote a poem about Publius' dog called Issa. It begins:

Issa est passere nequior Catulli,
Issa est purior osculo columbae,
Issa est blandior omnibus puellis,
Issa est carior Indicis lapillis,
Issa est deliciae catella Publi.

Issa is naughtier than Catullus’ sparrow,
Issa is purer than a dove’s kiss,
Issa is more winning than any girl,
Issa is more precious than Indian pearls,
Issa is a lapdog, Publius’ darling.

Epigrams, 1.109.1-5 (trans. D. R. Shackleton-Bailey)

The whole poem is uncharacteristically sweet. If it's actually full of euphemisms for sordidness, like so much of Martial, please don't tell me.

Also, Ovid names some of Actaeon's dogs in the Metamorphoses, 3.206-225:

Dum dubitat, videre canes, primique Melampus
Ichnobatesque sagax latratu signa dedere,
Cnosius Ichnobates, Spartana gente Melampus.
inde ruunt alii rapida velocius aura,
Pamphagos et Dorceus et Oribasos, Arcades omnes,
Nebrophonosque valens et trux cum Laelape Theron
et pedibus Pterelas et naribus utilis Agre
Hylaeusque ferox nuper percussus ab apro
deque lupo concepta Nape pecudesque secuta
Poemenis et natis comitata Harpyia duobus
et substricta gerens Sicyonius ilia Ladon
et Dromas et Canache Sticteque et Tigris et Alce
et niveis Leucon et villis Asbolos atris
praevalidusque Lacon et cursu fortis Aello
et Thoos et Cyprio velox cum fratre Lycisce
et nigram medio frontem distinctus ab albo
Harpalos et Melaneus hirsutaque corpore Lachne
et patre Dictaeo, sed matre Laconide nati
Labros et Argiodus et acutae vocis Hylactor

But while he stands perplexed he sees his hounds. And first come Melampus and keen-scented Ichnobates, baying loud on the trail—Ichnobates a Cretan dog, Melampus a Spartan; then others come rushing on swifter than the wind: Pamphagus, Dorceus, and Oribasos, Arcadians all; staunch Nebrophonos, fierce Theron and Laelaps; Pterelas, the swift of foot, and keen-scented Agre; savage Hylaeus, but lately ripped up by a boar; the wolf-dog Nape and the trusty shepherd Poemenis; Harpyia with her two pups; Sicyonian Ladon, thin in the flanks; Dromas, Canache, Sticte, Tigris, Alce; white-haired Leucon, black Asbolos; Lacon, renowned for strength, and fleet Aëllo; Thoos and swift Lycisce with her brother Cyprius; Harpalos, with a white spot in the middle of his black forehead; Melaneus and shaggy Lachne; two dogs from a Cretan father and a Spartan mother, Labros and Argiodus; shrill-tongued Hylactor ...

The English translations of these would be, in order (NB: revised since first posting):

Black-foot, Trail-follower, Voracious, Gazelle, Mountain-ranger, Faun-killer, Hunter (Theron from θήρα, hunting), Hurricane, Winged, Hunter ("keen-scented" Agre), Sylvan, Glen, Shepherd, Seizer, Catcher, Runner, Gnasher (or Noisy from καναχός), Spot, Tigress, Might, White, Soot, Spartan, Whirlwind, Swift (Thoos from θοός, quick, nimble), Lycisce (perhaps related to λύκος, wolf), Cyprian, Grasper, Black, Shaggy, Fury (Labros from λάβρος, furious), White-tooth (Argiodus a compound of ἀργής, white + ὀδούς, tooth), Barker (Hylactor from ὑλακτέω, to bark or howl). (List adapted from trans. Frank Justus Miller, rev. G. P. Goold)

These seem to suggest that a pattern for naming dogs was simply to call them by their attributes. Xenophon advises giving hunting dogs short names, "so as to be able to call to them easily". He continues:

εἶναι δὲ χρὴ τοιάδε, Ψυχή, Θυμός, Πόρπαξ, Στύραξ, Λόγχη, Λόχος, Φρουρά, Φύλαξ, Τάξις, Ξίφων, Φόναξ, Φλέγων, Ἀλκή, Τεύχων, Ὑλεύς, Μήδας, Πόρθων, Σπέρχων, Ὀργή, Βρέμων, Ὕβρις, Θάλλων, Ῥώμη, Ἀνθεύς, Ἥβα, Γηθεύς, Χαρά, Λεύσσων, Αὐγώ, Πολύς, Βία, Στίχων, Σπουδή, Βρύας, Οἰνάς, Στερρός, Κραύγη, Καίνων, Τύρβας, Σθένων, Αἰθήρ, Ἀκτίς, Αἰχμή, Νόης, Γνώμη, Στίβων, Ὁρμή.

The following are the right sort: Psyche, Thymus, Porpax, Styrax, Lonché, Lochus, Phrura, Phylax, Taxis, Xiphon, Phonax, Phlegon, Alcé, Teuchon, Hyleus, Medas, Porthon, Sperchon, Orgé, Bremon, Hybris, Thallon, Rhomé, Antheus, Hebe, Getheus, Chara, Leusson, Augo, Polys, Bia, Stichon, Spudé, Bryas, Oenas, Sterrus, Craugé, Caenon, Tyrbas, Sthenon, Aether, Actis, Aechmé, Noës, Gnomé, Stibon, Elormé.

On Hunting, 7.5

The translators (Marchant & Bowersock) note: "The names are significant of the colour, strength, spirit, sagacity or behaviour of the hounds. Hebe and Psyche are still in the list of bitches’ names, and modern equivalents of several of the other names are in use, e.g. Lance (Lonché), Sentinel (Phylax), Ecstasy (Chara), Blueskin (Oenas), Crafty (Medas), Hasty (Sperchon), Vigorous (Thallon), Impetus (Hormé), Counsellor (Noës), Bustler (dog) or Hasty (bitch); cf. Sperchon. For Πολύς we should probably read Πολεύς, “Rover.”"

  • 1
    Brilliant! Reminds me of Dasher and Dancer and Donner and Blitzen, Comet and Cupid and Prancer and Vixen (but not necessarily in that order) — to say nothing of Rudolph.
    – Tom Cotton
    Apr 2, 2019 at 14:45
  • 1
    @TomCotton Or Achilles's two immortal horses, Balios (apparently meaning 'Dappled') and Xanthos ('Blonde'), and the third, Pēdasos ('Leaping', perhaps).
    – cnread
    Apr 3, 2019 at 5:37
  • @sumelic So, on closer inspection, it would seem that there are several problems with that list! Hurricane and Hunter should be transposed - Theron is Hunter (from θήρα, hunting) and Laelaps is indeed Hurricane. But there are other problems, not least of which there are more English names than Latin! There is no translation for Thoos; no dog is called Wolf, Black-hair, Beast-killer or Mountaineer. The list should stop at Barker (Hylactor). Perhaps I should edit my answer (and not blindly trust editors again!)
    – Penelope
    Apr 3, 2019 at 7:32
  • Thanks for the clarification! I guess it could be a loose translation that is meant to convey only the general impression of the names, and not the specific meaning of each one.
    – Asteroides
    Apr 3, 2019 at 7:43
  • @sumelic Perhaps! I've fixed up the list in the answer proper. Thoos is translated correctly as Swift and it's Lycisce that doesn't seem to have a translation. I'm not even going to begin on the Xenophon list! Well, not right now ... :)
    – Penelope
    Apr 3, 2019 at 7:49

In Petronius, Satyricon 64, Trimalchio's favorite, Croesus, has an 'indecently fat black puppy' (catellam nigram atque indecenter pinguem) named Margarita, which means 'pearl', and Trimalchio himself has a dog, the 'bulwark of the house and household' (praesidium domus familiaeque) named Scylax, which is Greek for 'young dog' or 'puppy'.

In the meantime, though this doesn't really qualify as a pet, since I thought of it and went to the effort of finding it, there's also this late 2nd-century (CE) inscription from Rome for a racing horse named Euthydikos ('righteous-judging'). It was found on the Aventine, near the Circus Maximus.

στήλη μαρμαρέη
τίνος εἶ τάφος;
ὠκέος ἵππου.
τίς δ' ὄνομα; Εὐθύδικος.
τί κλέος; ἀθλοφόρος.
ποσ<σ>άκις ἐστέφθης δρόμον;
πολλάκις. τί δ' ἔλαέν μιν;
κοίρανος. ὢ τιμῆς
κρέσσ<ο>νος ἡμιθέων.

Marble slab, whose tomb are you? That of a swift horse. Who by name? Euthydikos. What was his fame? As a prizewinner. How many times was he crowned for racing? Often. Who drove him? The ruler. O honor superior to that of the demigods.

(From Guarducci, L'epigrafia greca dalle origine al tardo impero, pp 414–416; photo on p 415)


The 2 names from Petronius appear elsewhere as names for dogs.

In De re rustica 7.12.13, Columella actually gives his recommendations for the names of dogs. Some of them match the names recommended by Xenophon in Penelope's answer. One of the recommendations is Scylax:

nominibus autem non longissimis appellandi sunt, quo celerius quisque uocatus exaudiat, nec tamen breuioribus quam quae duabus syllabis enuntiantur, sicuti Graecum est Σκύλαξ, Latinum Ferox, Graecum Λάκων, Latinum Celer, uel femina, ut sunt Graeca Σπουδή, Ἀλκή, Ῥώμη, Latina Lupa, Cerua, Tigris.

They should be called by names that aren't overly long, so that each may heed more quickly here when it has been called, but neverthless not by names shorter than what are pronounced in 2 syllables, like the Greek name Scylax ['Pup'], the Latin name Ferox ['Fierce'], the Greek Lakōn ['Spartan'], Latin Celer ['Swift'], or feminine, such as are Greek Spoudē ['Zeal'], Alkē ['Prowess'], Rhomē ['Might'], and Latin Lupa ['She-wolf'], Cerva ['Doe'], Tigris ['Tigress'].

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) VI.29896 includes, in the short section headed 'Canum sepulcra', an epitaph for a dog named Margarita:

Gallia me genuit nomen mihi divitis undae
concha dedit formae nominis aptus honos
docta per incertas audax discurrere silvas
collibus hirsutas atque agitare feras
non gravibus vinclis unquam consueta teneri
verbera nec niveo corpore saeva pati
molli namque sinu domini dominaeque iacebam
et noram in strato lassa cubare toro
et plus quam licuit muto canis ore loquebar
nulli latratus pertimuere meos
sed iam fata subii partu iactata sinistro
quam nunc sub parvo marmore terra tegit

Gaul produced me. The seashell/pearl of the wealthy wave gave me my name. The honor of the name is suited to my beauty. Trained to run boldly about through unsafe [pathless? dimly lit?] forests and to chase shaggy beasts on hills. Never accustomed to being held by heavy chains, nor to suffer savage lashes on my snow-white body. In fact, I would lie in the soft bosom of my master and mistress, and knew how to lie down on a made-up bed when I was all tuckered out. And more than was permissible, I would speak with my inarticulate dog's mouth. But no one took excessive fright at my barking. But now, after being shaken by an ill-favored childbirth, I have met my fate, and the earth now covers me beneath a small piece of marble: Margarita.

(Incidentally, the other inscription in that section of vol. 6, pt. 4, fasc. 1 of CIL, VI.29895, records a marble tablet that shows a relief of a dog and, under it, the word AMINNARACUS, apparently the dog's name. I'm not sure what that would mean though.

  • Maybe you were thinking of this charming grave inscription for an unnamed dog: books.google.com/…
    – TKR
    Apr 3, 2019 at 0:03
  • @TKR That one is charming. I included it in a short collection that I once compiled to read with a class, but it isn't what I was thinking of. I was thinking of this one, currently in the Getty Villa; apparently, though, it's not entirely clear whether the inscription is commemorating a dog or a human girl, in spite of the very sweet relief of a Maltese dog.
    – cnread
    Apr 3, 2019 at 5:08

Since there has not been a better answer as yet, I will put forth the example of Odysseus' famous dog, Ἄργος (which seems to be an epithet, rather than a human-type name).

  • Interesting! What does Argos mean?
    – Draconis
    Apr 1, 2019 at 3:47
  • It's a bit ambiguous. The word can mean "white", or (more likely in this case, I think) "swift-footed".
    – varro
    Apr 1, 2019 at 3:50

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