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Episode Transcript

Isabella ROSSELLINI: That’s my sheep.

Alexandra HOROWITZ: Hello, the sheep.

ROSSELLINI: I’m going to free them. They are going to run to the chicken coop to see what they are eating and then they calm down and come back.

Welcome to Off Leash. I’m Alexandra Horowitz. And that was Isabella Rossellini. She’s showing me around her farm, which she calls Mama Farm.

This is the podcast where we explore the relationship between humans and dogs. I’ll invite an interesting person — and their dog and, today, their sheep and chickens — to join me for a walk, and then we’ll see where the walk takes us. Today on the show, it takes us into considering the names we give to our dogs. We’ll talk to a researcher who has studied how dogs hear their names — and weighs in on “what to name your pup”:

Amritha MULLIKARJUN: Name your dog something that you’re willing to say in front of other people, shout it loudly, something that, that you wouldn’t be embarrassed for your boss and your family and everyone else to hear.

And we’ll visit the dog park to collect dog names and the stories behind them.

DOG PERSON 6: Stella, sit. I call her Bean. She knows it’s her nickname, so Stella Bean or Bean she responds to.

But first, let’s get back to Mama Farm, on the south shore of Long Island.

*      *      *

ROSSELLINI: My name is Isabella Rossellini and I am an actress, but I always loved animals all my life. And so, I ended up with a master degree on animal behavior and conservation. And while I was studying as an adult in my late fifties, I bought a piece of land and transformed it into a farm. We have chickens, we have sheep, we have bees and we will walk around and we’ll meet them and we are accompanied by my two dogs, two mutts, Morsi and Pinocchio.

HOROWITZ: Wonderful. Here’s Morsi now, jingling.

ROSSELLINI: Looks a little bit like a Jack Russell Terrier, but with long legs and looks like she’s in high heels, the way she walks. And her name at the pound was Darcy. And I have a friend called Darcy and she got offended that a dog was called after her. So I changed her name into Morsi, which in Italian means “bites,” because she can’t tell the difference, you know.

HOROWITZ: Frankly, I’d be completely delighted if somebody named their dog Alexandra after me, but I understand.

ROSSELLINI: I have a friend who called her dog, Isabella and then the dog had puppies and called the puppies the name of my children. I thought that was a little bit too much.

HOROWITZ: And Pinocchio, the name?

ROSSELLINI: Pinocchio came because he lies. Pinocchio, I didn’t want him to sleep on my bed. But I gave him a bed next to my bed. And of course, the moment I stepped out of the house, he jumped on my bed. But when he heard me come back, he would jump off my bed and pretend to be sleeping on his bed. But of course, there were hairs everywhere. So I knew he had been lying to me. And that’s how he got his name.

HOROWITZ: He’s not an especially long-nosed dog, we should say. He has a very adorable long nose, but —.

ROSSELLINI: You know — it’s called Mama Farm because it’s dominated by females.

HOROWITZ: That’s lovely.

ROSSELLINI: We happen have three roosters, but just because it’s so difficult to sex them when they are so small.

HOROWITZ: That’s right.

ROSSELLINI: I mean ducks, they do have a penis. But most birds have what is called the cloaca. It’s a hole where everything comes out — eggs, sperm, poop, pee, everything.

HOROWITZ: I think it’s considered not very advanced, but I think that seems very advanced. I mean, it’s like an all-in-one.

ROSSELLINI: All in one. Easy.

HOROWITZ: It took us a long time to do that with our silverware and so forth.

ROSSELLINI: Pinocchio, come! Pinocchio! Morsi! See, they —.

HOROWITZ: They are surprisingly good.

ROSSELLINI: Well, Pinocchio is. Pinocchio cannot stand chicks, babies. He cannot — come, come, come, come, come, come, come. They’re trying to eat their feed. They eat corn and chicken feed.

HOROWITZ: Oh, listen to them. They’re — your chickens are gathering all together. They’re sociable. Oh, look at that.

ROSSELLINI: They do like it.

HOROWITZ: Wait, do any of these chickens have names?

ROSSELLINI: The extreme personalities are the ones that I recognize. So there was one chicken, Andy Warhol, because he had a big white hairdo. And then there was another one that we call Red because her coat is quite red. She’s still alive. She is that breed. I don’t recognize them — you know, if I have five chickens of the same breed, this is a Welsummer, it’s hard for me to identify. But there was always one Welsummers that I found in my car, in my house. Like, she was an explorer. And she dared to come in places where the others didn’t come. So I put a ring to see if it was the same individual and indeed it was.

HOROWITZ: So I’m so interested that some of them are named because it — obviously, you see them so much better when they’re named.

ROSSELLINI: Right, but now I have almost too many chickens to identify their personalities. So when I first started and I had 30, I observed them very carefully. And the 30s, I could handle, too. Now at 150 chickens, it’s much harder to catch them, to hold them.

HOROWITZ: Morsi’s going in for the — for the chicken feed.

ROSSELLINI: She’s slowly coming. That — her dream, for Morsi, is to get to the feed, eat the feed, and chase them. Morsi, Morsi! Come. Chickens, they have so many different calls. If you’re close to them, they make so many different sounds.

HOROWITZ: I’ve heard like a clucking, but I’m not describing that well. Like, that’s the only sound I’ve really —.

ROSSELLINI: If you’re close to them — like we can sit close to them. You can — they are always talking, but whispering. We must be so loud for them because our speaking is so loud. But come, come. We can sit next to them and you can hear.

HOROWITZ: Oh, that’s great.

ROSSELLINI: Now, of course, they are just a little bit alarmed because they don’t know you. If I walk here, they don’t have any different behavior. If I walk with friends, they all hover there. They’re keeping an eye out because, you know, it’s novelty.

HOROWITZ: But you’re right. They’re making little sounds all the time.

ROSSELLINI: All the time.

HOROWITZ: It’s extraordinary that we don’t know what they’re saying, right? It’s not meaningless.

ROSSELLINI: They say they have a primitive, simple language. Well, we haven’t decoded. But they do, they do it for a reason.

HOROWITZ: I love that they would also be thinking that they know you, they don’t know me, they know the dogs, but maybe if a new dog comes along, it’s a completely —.

ROSSELLINI: Oh if a new dog will come, they will be all in the house. You know?

HOROWITZ: So what is it that they’re immediately recognizing? When I now am looking at these chickens, there’s no way I could tell apart. They’re gorgeous each in her own way, but I can’t distinguish them at all. And yet, instantly they’re telling the difference between members of other species.

ROSSELLINI: Exactly. But they are different, you know, I mean, if you live with them, you could tell after a while. It’s familiarity. When I was studying animal behavior, some of the scientists, in order to remain impartial, they don’t want to familiarize with the animals. And it’s impossible to understand them if you’re not familiar. Familiarity makes you see things.

As a researcher studying dogs, I’ve thought a lot about this idea of familiarity, of the naming of animals. For quite a long while in science, naming was verboten: to name an animal who you studied was to get too familiar, too close — the opposite of the objectivity that science aims for. But scientists are coming round to the idea that some degree of familiarity with the animals we study allows us to see them better. And certainly, as a person who lives with dogs, not just studies them, I name them. So I’m always interested in the names of the dogs who come to our lab — just this week, we met Kona, Kiwi, Willa, and Freja.

What we’ve never done in our lab is study naming — whether dogs understand their names; whether their names have meaning for them. But I know a researcher who has.

MALLIKARJUN: I’m Amritha Mallikarjun. I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Amritha earned her Ph.D at the University of Maryland. She didn’t start off studying dogs.

MALLIKARJUN: So, my lab in my Ph.D. did a lot of work studying how infants are able to understand words and their own name when there’s a lot of noise in the background. And we realized that a really interesting follow-up study would be to see how our canine companions, who live in these same environments with us, are able to contend with these kinds of noisy environments as well. So we use some paradigms that we have in infant research to study what dogs know about their name and how they can recognize it in different scenarios.

HOROWITZ: So describe the series of experiments that you went through.

MALLIKARJUN: So our first study was looking at how dogs recognize their own name in noisy environments, which is also called the cocktail party effect.

HOROWITZ: Can you describe what it is?

MALLIKARJUN: Sure. So you can imagine it as you’re at a party and you’re talking to a bunch of people. And across the room, someone mentions your name and even if there’s a lot of noise going on around you, we tend to be sort of drawn towards the sound of our own name. We tend to be able to hear it piercing through the background noise. So we want to see in dogs if we can see that they show something similar.

HOROWITZ: So they basically could come to the cocktail parties with us, is what you’re saying? And hear their name across the room.

MALLIKARJUN: They could absolutely. So the first step of the process is really will a dog recognize their own name, and would they prefer to listen to it in comparison to another dog’s name? And will they prefer to listen to their own name when said by a stranger, someone they don’t know, as opposed to, you know, a familiar voice like their owner’s voice.

HOROWITZ: Can you give us an example of how you said their name?

MALLIKARJUN: Oh, absolutely. So it would be something like “Roscoe, Roscoe, Roscoe.” That for about 20 seconds. Yeah, I hear them in my dreams sometimes.

HOROWITZ: And the dog was sitting — you know, describe the dog’s environment.

MALLIKARJUN: Sure. The dog is sitting in a 6 x 6 testing booth, just with their owner. On the two side walls, there are little lights and these lights are in front of speakers. And then there’s a light in the front of the room, and that’s near a little camera where we’re able to see what the dog’s doing inside the space. And what would happen is we’d first draw the dog’s attention to the front of the room either by turning on the light, which works really well for infants, but sometimes dogs don’t react to that. So we would have a squeaky toy in the back and we’d squeak the squeaky toy and the dog’s face would shoot to the front of the booth. Once they orient there, we start playing one of our stimuli. So that’s either the dog’s name another dog’s name, or that dog’s name in noise, or the other dog’s name in noise. And what we’re interested in is just seeing how long they pay attention to that audio source.

HOROWITZ: So you’re basically looking at what in the baby literature was called looking time, right?

MALLIKARJUN: Yes, exactly.

HOROWITZ: So you’re there calling to Roscoe but then you also would say some kind of paired name, right? A name that wasn’t theirs.

MALLIKARJUN: Yeah. So we get a list of all the dog’s friends and all the family members to make sure we don’t overlap with any of the names that the dog’s familiar with. So we make sure it’s truly an unfamiliar name. And we made sure it doesn’t share any sounds with Roscoe’s name. So, you know, we use Roscoe and then we use something really different, like Daisy. And so Roscoe will hear the, “Roscoe, Roscoe,” and then the same intonational pattern he’ll hear, “Daisy, Daisy,” and that prevents him from using those intonational cues to make his decision. So we’re really just looking at, does he recognize the sound patterns of his own name?

HOROWITZ: And you did match the stress patterns in their names, right? Can you explain that?

MALLIKARJUN: Interestingly stress pattern, which is, the location in a word where we place the most emphasis — so in Roscoe it’s on that first syllable, but in a word like “giraffe”, it’s in the second syllable. What’s really interesting is that a lot of speech to infants has stress on the first syllable. And it seems like a lot of speech to dogs and a lot of our choice for dog names also have that initial stress. It’s often, you know, we take words for infants and we turn them into a — an initial stress word, like dog becomes doggy. So a lot of that seems to mimic itself with the dogs where we see, you know, Daisy and Frankie and things like that.

HOROWITZ: Oh, that’s great.

MALLIKARJUN: But sometimes a dog would come in, like Deedee, and that stress pattern has equal stress on both syllables. So we’ll match it, with a — a dog named Booboo or something like that. Something with equal stress.

HOROWITZ: And they were all adult dogs that you tested?

MALLIKARJUN: Yeah. They had to have their name for at least 10 months because we wanted to make sure that they were familiar with the sound of their name.

HOROWITZ: So when they’ve been exposed to their name and noise, how do they do?

MALLIKARJUN: What we found is that dogs were better than human infants at showing this preference for their own name, even up to the level where the background noise is the same intensity as the dog’s name, which is kind of like a medium crowded bar. So it’s actually a little bit difficult for us as adults to be able to understand speech in that kind of environment and the dogs were doing pretty well.

HOROWITZ: What do you think accounts for that finding?

MALLIKARJUN: When I think about the two factors that kind of play into this effect, we can see attention — your ability to just focus on the sound of your name and the presence of all this other cool stuff happening. And then secondly, we think about your auditory system. So literally your ear and your brain have to separate the sound into different types of auditory sources. And those two processes are really hard for babies. So dog and infant attention for auditory stimuli tends to be quite similar. But dogs have a mature auditory system because we’re testing adult dogs. I think what we’re seeing here with dogs’ improved performance over infants is really an effect of their mature auditory system and hearing.

HOROWITZ: We’re talking about a dog’s, like full name, right? I mean, my dog, Finnegan, I called Finn and, you know, I also called him a thousand other names, which I think is very typical of dog people. He was Sweetie. He was Mr. Nose. He was Kiddo. He was Mouse. And so you were just looking at their kind of official or primary name, right?

MALLIKARJUN: Yeah. So we gave the owners a little survey where we asked them to write down all of the nicknames that they called their dog, which is a whole separate study that someone in our lab should dig into because we had a bunch of fun nicknames. And what I thought was particularly interesting is we had a lot of working dogs that participated in our name studies. And the working dogs tended to have fewer nicknames and they also tended to show a stronger preference for their name in comparison to the other dog’s name. And I don’t know if those things are correlated, but it’s a, you know, sort of a future path of exploration.

HOROWITZ: So that could be because they don’t have a ton of these cutesy nicknames that we give our dogs, or also they’re all just better at attention, right? It could be either thing.

MALLIKARJUN: Exactly. It could really be either cause they’re working dogs and they have to pay attention to a lot of things and they have to be trained to pay attention to a lot of things.

After the break, we’ll hear about a study asking whether dogs notice when a consonant or vowel has been changed in their name — and we’ll head to the dog park!

DOG PERSON 7: And two syllable’s more fun to say when actually you’re yelling at the dog. “Rocco!” “Wyatt!” “Max!” — doesn’t really work as well.

*      *      *

Welcome back to Off Leash. I’m Alexandra Horowitz.

HOROWITZ: One of the things I hear a lot from dog people is that dogs won’t detect if some letters of a word are changed. In other words, that you could say to your dog, “Want to tow for a balk?”, and your dog will react as though you’re asking them if they want to go for a walk, you know, with that enthusiasm. And what interested me about this other study that you’ve done is that it essentially gets at that question with variations on a dog’s name instead of on common words that they hear. Can you tell us a little bit about this study?

MALLIKARJUN: Yeah, sure. So during that study, we would assign the dogs either to our consonant condition or our vowel condition. So in the consonant condition, a dog named Bella would come in and she would hear Bella. And then she would also hear Tella. And if she was assigned to our vowel condition, Bella the dog would hear Bella and Bula. And what we’re looking at is we’re trying to see in which one of these conditions, or perhaps in both, would they show a preference for their own name over that changed version or when they would consider their name and the changed version to be equivalent?

HOROWITZ: Did they distinguish those names always? Or did they distinguish one category and not the other?

MALLIKARJUN: So interestingly dogs showed a similar pattern to really young infants where they really thought that vowels were super important for identifying their name. So Sasha really thought that Zasha was equivalent to her name. So Sasha , Zasha, Tasha, all those are fine. But Sosha was not okay. So Sasha the dog, when we’re playing Sosha just did not look at it for very long, And actually looked at Sosha about as long as a name that’s completely different, like Dalton.

I was reminded of Isabella Rosselini’s dog Morsi, who was originally named Darcy.

MALLIKARJUN: If Darcy is changing to Morsi? So if there’s a consonant change, but more importantly, there is a vowel change there. We’ve found that the dogs really consider that to be a different word. So if we have that change in name, it’s not that big of a problem, right? The dogs can learn a new word. They tend to learn new words quite quickly. It just would require a little bit more effort than if the vowel was the same.

HOROWITZ: So why might they not notice if the consonant has been swapped out of their name? Is it that they’re not exposed to enough words in their life?

MALLIKARJUN: That’s one of my theories. They’re kind of two options here. The first of which is that it’s possible that dogs might not be able to notice that particular difference, because of some human specific language development in our brain. But I think it’s way more likely that it’s something like when we look at a dog’s vocabulary, you know, the kinds of commands that we use, the kinds of words that we use for our dog, they all tend to be quite different. There’s no need for dogs to have a solid representation of consonants, because they don’t really distinguish between a lot of the words that dogs hear and need to care about. I also see it in my current job. We ask dogs to both “down”, which is, you know, a common command and also to “bow” which is, you know, like a play bow. Sometimes when you ask them to do one of those things, they’ll do the other. And what’s interesting about those commands is that they only differ in consonant.

HOROWITZ: Right. So I guess there’s a lesson for people who live with dogs or want to train them in terms of making it easier for their dogs to understand requests. Right?

MALLIKARJUN: Yes. My takeaway for this is to use some commands that are a little bit more unique. Like instead of “down” and “bow,” you can use, “take a bow.” And that makes it even clearer what’s going on.

HOROWITZ: So people are regularly asking me if there’s any science that can inform what they should name their dog. I wondered if you got that question or if there’s anything you would recommend that people keep in mind when giving their dog a name?

MALLIKARJUN: Yes, I get this question very often. Um — just out of curiosity, we did a little analysis of every time I had recorded a dog’s name and how long on average those dogs listen to their name just in silence. And any dog that had an “ee” sound in their name, listened significantly longer than dogs with other sounds.

HOROWITZ: Oh, that’s so interesting. Like, “Buddy” type of name?

MALLIKARJUN: Exactly. Or, you know, “ee” sounds in the first syllable. Although that was also only in my voice, so maybe I just am very good at making an “ee” sound and the dogs like it?

HOROWITZ: Right. Right. You have a really great “ee.” I always just say, name your dog something you want to say many, many times.

MALLIKARJUN: That’s the key. Absolutely, name your dog something that you’re willing to say in front of other people, shout it loudly. Something that you wouldn’t be embarrassed for your boss and your family and everyone else to hear.

Most of the dogs in Amritha’s study did not have embarrassing names.

MALLIKARJUN: The most popular dog name, by far, is Cooper. We had eight of them. Eight Coopers came in. And then we also had a lot of Bellas.

HOROWITZ: Yes. I get a lot of Bellas in my study, as well. I think I have more Charlies than Coopers, also Lucys.

MALLIKARJUN: Ah, we have several Charlies. Oh, Lucy. Lucy, I think, is on its way out. I mean, I would really like a career as like a dog name forecaster. I think that’s — I see that for myself.

HOROWITZ: Yeah. In, in one of my favorite, very informal studies that I did, I asked people to do a survey, telling me their dog’s name and the reason they chose their names. And I got something like 8,000 responses and the stories were wonderful. Very personal and often very sweet and they have to do with something to do with the family. And the big trend that I found while there were dogs named Mr. Pickles or Waggles or something — named by kids, no doubt —the big trend was that most of the top names were people names, like Bella and Charlie and Lola and Max. And that was really different than the names I had seen at, you know, old pet cemeteries and stuff in the turn of the 20th century, where there were a lot of Fidos and Rovers.

MALLIKARJUN: Oh yeah, we’re moving towards sort of trendy baby names as one of the categories of name that I often saw. The other thing I see a lot is food. Porkchop, Waffles — things like that. Breakfast foods.

HOROWITZ: We’re at once kind of humanizing them, but then also naming them after cute things. But they’re no longer just those kind of generic names for dogs that we used to see.

MALLIKARJUN: Oh, no. I see middle names. I see — I often — when they fill out the form, they add a middle name to the, to the sheet. There was a terrier that came in named Brinkley Evan. And that could be the name of a 3-year-old child.

HOROWITZ: Absolutely. Yeah.

MALLIKARJUN: Yeah. And we had to specify Brinkley Evan: Dog. Just in case because it could have been one of the children coming into our lab.

HOROWITZ: Right. You had these lists of children’s names at the same time. Except for Mr. Pickles, it’s sometimes hard to tell.

MALLIKARJUN: I think that actually what’s interesting is that the dog’s names seem to be a, slight predictor for future children’s names. The dogs’ names seem to be those, like cutting edge children’s names, the ones that are just about to become popular, but people don’t quite want to name their children that yet. And then they sort of end up popping up like Caden. We had some Cadens and some, some Kaisers and things like that that are showing up. And then suddenly you start seeing them as infants.

HOROWITZ: I’ve heard about people who saved an infant name, the way people do in case they have a child, who then maybe didn’t have a daughter when they had a name for a daughter and wound up adopting a female dog and then giving the dog that name.

MALLIKARJUN: I think dogs now tend to — their primary role is as a member of the family. So it makes sense to me that we’re giving them names like they’re members of our family. So some of my favorite names — I enjoyed a lot of the food names. I really like Poptart — Poptart the Pit Bull, — she was enthralled by the sound of her own name. It was one of those things that really stuck in my brain, just how much she enjoyed listening, which is of course flattering for me because it’s me saying it.

HOROWITZ: I feel like if you’re yelling Poptart in a park or something, a lot of people are going to be interested in that name, frankly.

MALLIKARJUN: There are a bunch of people who named their dog after different parts of their culture, which I really liked. You know, like a bunch of, Indian dogs named after different Indian foods. And some Irish dogs with some names that look beautiful and are difficult for me to pronounce. And I did that too as an animal name is kind of an extension of part of my culture. So I think that’s really fun.

HOROWITZ: Now you live with cats, right? Not dogs.

MALLIKARJUN: I do. I have two cats, Freja and Kiri.

HOROWITZ: How did you come to name them?

MALLIKARJUN: I liked Freja because Freja is the Norse goddess who rides a chariot pulled by cats and I thought that was funny. And then Kiri was named for Valkyries, because I wanted a similar mythological theme. But then my native language Tamil, the word “Kiri” means to scratch. And we also thought that was funny and also is in accordance with her personality. So it became Freja and Kiri.

HOROWITZ: That’s beautiful.

If you want a bigger glimpse of how people are naming their dogs today, what better place to go than the dog park?

DOG PERSON 1: My dog’s name is Molly.


DOG PERSON 3: Cocoa.

DOG PERSON 4: Snookie.

DOG PERSON 5: His name is Bear.

DOG PERSON 1: Silvia.

DOG PERSON 3: Patton.

DOG PERSON 6: Her name’s Kona.

DOG PERSON 5: I call him Kookie or, like, Kooks.

DOG PERSON 1: Molls, Mollusk.

DOG PERSON 4: Snooks, Snookums.

DOG PERSON 7: Wyatt’s nickname is Wy-wy.

DOG PERSON 2: Sometimes we call her Sky King.

DOG PERSON 5: Or like a million variations of that.

DOG PERSON 7: That’s Wyatt howling right now. Half Pomeranian, half Husky. And he likes to howl like a Husky especially at that poor child.

DOG PERSON 7: I don’t think I knew another dog named Wyatt, so I liked that it wasn’t super common. After having dogs my whole life, I felt like I could break it up and try something new. We were told in the beginning that to start with “W” is not a good name for a dog, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem. He knows his name. I had a Max, one syllable, and a Rocco, which was two syllable. And two syllable’s more fun to say when actually you’re yelling at the dog. “Rocco!” “Wyatt!” “Max!” — doesn’t really work as well.

DOG PERSON 2: So Sky looks like a typical mini Australian Shepherd, but she has a unique feature, which is that she has black fur and very blue eyes. And so that’s why we named her Sky.

DOG PERSON 5: My name is Daisy, and that’s Bear. Every dog’s name is Daisy. Yeah, so I get a lot of people like, “Oh, my dog’s name is Daisy.” Oh, my God, Beary! Careful, careful, careful. He was a quarantine puppy. I knew I wanted to have a mini Goldendoodle, so I had, like, a boy name picked out and a girl name picked out. I just feel like Goldendoodles kind of look like bears. He’s the like, second Bear at the place where I board him when I go on vacation. So it’s not super unique, but it’s cute. I like it.

DOG PERSON 4: I brought Snookie. Snookie rides a skateboard. And her Instagram is @SnookieOnWheels because she does music videos and stuff. We adopted her from New Jersey. I’ve never seen “Jersey Shore,” but I know there’s a Snooki. So I think that’s where it came from. The other Snooki’s just “I,” um, but we changed the spelling, so it’s “K-I-E.”

DOG PERSON 8: My dog’s name is Cosmo. He’s four months. There’s this great movie from the ’80s called Moonstruck. It has Cher and Nicholas Cage. It’s amazing. And it takes place in New York, and one of the main characters in it is named Cosmo. So we named him after that.

DOG PERSON 3: This black one prancing around is Peppa. There was a movie with Dev Patel in it called Lion that came out maybe, like, five or six years ago. And it was one of the first movies I saw with my now-wife. And in that movie, the first word he learns in English is “pepper,” but he says it “peppa,” and we just thought it was kind of funny. We would say “peppa” from time to time. And then we adopted her and, like, once we saw a picture and we found out she was black, it’s like, oh, that’s perfect.

DOG PERSON 9: Stella, Stella, sit. I call her Bean. She knows it’s her nickname, so Stella Bean or Bean she responds to. She is the funniest, smartest dog. She will do anything for a piece of cheese and she really just wants to be loved by anyone who will give her an ounce of attention. You make eye contact with her on the street. It’s game over. She’s coming up to you. In June 2020, we put down my Labradoodle, our family dog named Sammy. We had him for, like, a week short of 16 years. So we wanted an “S” name to go after Sammy. Stella felt like a — a dog name that was just dog enough and not too human enough. So it was a happy medium.

As we’ve heard, not everyone worries about whether they’re choosing a name that’s “too human” including Isabella Rossellini when she was naming her sheep.

ROSSELLINI: I called them all like female artists — Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Greta Garbo. This is Frida Kahlo. This one is —.

HOROWITZ: Oh, I can see that you are Frida.

ROSSELLINI: She has a mustache, see?

HOROWITZ: That’s great. But they don’t respond to that?

ROSSELLINI: They don’t. They recognize their call. I go, “sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep!” And they come, the whole herd.

HOROWITZ: Well, I was just pausing to see this fabulous scene. You have a deer fence that separates the wilderness, where all animals can roam and it has this beautiful statue of a wolf.

ROSSELLINI: Yes. That is a statue of a wolf. And, uh, it’s from David Lynch. One of the directors that I worked with mostly in a film called Blue Velvet, it is the most known. But David Lynch did a television series called Twin Peaks. And he had a wolf  in the set. And when the film wrapped, he sent it to me.

HOROWITZ: And on the other side of the fence is, is all the domesticates. It’s the domestic animals. It’s the dogs that came from the wolf. It’s us, who kind of co-evolved with dogs. It’s your sheep and your ducks and your chickens. But the forest otherwise looks identical.

ROSSELLINI: This is where we can go and walk in the woods. But it’s only for the wildlife.

In bringing dogs over to our side of the fence, we’ve domesticated them — and given them names. Names that wind up being meaningful to them, at least in part — and that are definitely meaningful to us. What better way to begin their relationship with us, as part of the family?

Thank you to Amritha Mullikarjun; Isabella Rossellini — and Morsi and Pinnochio; the dog folks at Union Square dog park; and to you and your dog — whatever they’re named — for joining us.

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Off Leash is produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio, and is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network — which also includes No Stupid Questions, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. This episode was produced by Molly Getman and Lyric Bowditch, with help from Jared Hohlt, Alison Craiglow, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. It was mixed by Greg Rippin and Jeremy Johnston.

Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Rebecca Lee Douglas, Morgan Levey, Julie Kanfer, Emma Tyrrell, Jasmin Klinger, Eleanor Osborne, Jacob Clemente, and Alina Kulman. Our music was composed by Luis Guerra.

To see behind-the-mic photos of all the dogs you met in this episode — or to share your thoughts on the show — follow Off Leash on Instagram and Twitter at @OffLeashShow. You can also shoot us an email at To find a transcript, links to research, and a newsletter sign-up, go to As always, thanks for listening.

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Hey there, it’s Stephen Dubner. Thanks for checking out this latest addition to the Freakonomics Radio Network. We are really excited about this first season of Off Leash — we had a great time making it, and we would love to make more. To that end, help us spread the word by telling your family, your friends, and everyone you meet at the dog park to follow Off Leash on the podcast platform of their choice. That’s really the best way to spread the word about a new show. As always, thanks for listening.

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ROSSELLINI: And I also have bees. There they are.

HOROWITZ: Oh! Wonderful!

ROSSELLINI: I’ll show you — I’ll show them to you.

HOROWITZ: Yes, please!

ROSSELLINI: Yeah. They’re not cuddly, like dogs.

HOROWITZ: You don’t name them individually?

ROSSELLINI: No! There’s, you know, maybe 200,000s of them. So it’d be hard.

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