When the Pilgrims came to America on the Mayflower, they brought with them two dogs described as a spaniel and a mastiff. Though their names are unknown, the pet names of many famous four-legged New Englanders have not been lost to history.
John Adams and his wife Abigail were the first inhabitants of the White House, and their dogs were the first to romp on the White House lawn. The Adamses had two mutts named Juno and Satan. “If you love me … you must love my dog,” Abigail wrote in a letter to her granddaughter, Caroline Smith. As president, John Adams had the White House stables built, presumably to house his horse Cleopatra.
Satan and Sin
Mark Twain loved cats and loved to play pool. Whenever he played, he put a kitten into the corner pocket. His pet names for his cats included Sour Mash, Appollinaris, Zoraster, Blatherkite and Beelzebub.
He had a black cat named Satan and a tortoise-shell cat named Sin. They got along well.
“When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction,” he once wrote.
“I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one,” he said. “They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.”
Author Thomas Bailey Aldrich had an Irish setter named Grip, who he believed was smarter than some men he knew. The dog loved to bring Aldrich’s slippers from the bedroom to the parlor. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier had a dog named Robin Adair.
Daniel Webster wasn’t terribly fond of dogs or cats, but he loved oxen. When the great statesman returned to his Marshfield farm to die, one of his last pleasures was to sit in his window and admire his oxen. He was said to know them all by name, but alas, those pet names are lost to us.
Richard Henry Dana, Jr., during his two-year voyage aboard the Pilgrim, adopted a dog he named Bravo in San Diego. Frederick Law Olmsted took a bull terrier named Judy along when he traveled the South to write about slavery.
Abolitionist John Brown loved animals and gave pet names to many. As a boy he had a pet squirrel named Bobtail. He raised sheep and had two shepherd dogs named Toss and Jack.
Louisa May Alcott joked her vices included an inordinate love of cats. She had a black cat named Cuddle Bunch who “had a fit,” and fell out of a window to her death.
Harriet Beecher Stowe loved her cat named Calvin who, according to Charles Dudley Warner, ‘walked into her house one day out of the great unknown and became at once at home.’ Stowe named Calvin after her husband and let him sit on her shoulder while she wrote.
Presidential Pet Names
Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace brought a menagerie to the White House. Their pets included white collies named Rob Roy and Prudence Prim, terriers named Peter Pan and Paul Pry, a Shetland sheepdog named Calamity Jane, chow chows named Tiny Tim and Blackberry, a bulldog named Boston Beans and a German shepherd named King Cole.
The John F. Kennedy White House was filled with pets comprised of a mutt named Pushinka, a gift from Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev. Other pet names included a German shepherd named Clipper, a cocker spaniel named Shannon, an Irish wolfhouse named Shannon, and the president’s favorite dog, a Welsh terrier named Charlie.
The First Couple often took one or two of the family dogs out for a walk under the cover of darkness. Traphes Bryant, the White House dog handler, said the people didn’t recognize them as Secret Service agents followed discreetly in a car. Sometimes, Bryant said, they “looked like two young college kids taking the dogs for a walk. They looked so happy.”
Cultural Pet Names
Bernstein incorporated the pet names of his friends’ animals into his music. The Library of Congress’s collection of his music manuscripts includes a trumpet score in Bernstein’s writing called Rondo (for Lifey). He sent it to actress Judy Holliday, whose dog was named Lifey. The music and lyric sketches for Bernstein’s orchestral composition Slava! have an alternate title on the title page: Puk – the pet name for Rostropovich’s dog.
T.S. Eliot, though he grew up in St. Louis, was a member of the Boston Brahmin Eliots and summered in Gloucester, Mass. Eliot wrote “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” full of eccentric pet names. The book became the Broadway musical Cats.
This story about the pet names of famous New Englanders was updated in 2019.