Names are powerful. Mom or Dad might have used your full name as a warning that you were in deep, deep trouble. A crush in middle school might have said, “Hey, [insert your name here],” while walking down the hall in school (and, maybe, you squealed happily inside).
In fairy tales, it always seems like the brave peasant can turn the tables on mean wizards or magical beings just by knowing, and saying, their names. And, if you’re Bible-minded, God makes a big deal about parading every new animal by Adam so he can give them names.
The act of using a pet’s name isn’t quite as powerful as getting in trouble with Mom, swooning over a crush or beating the mean imp Rumpelstiltskin, but it’s a little bit like that.
Pet names gain power as people’s affection for their pets grow. Sometimes clients give pets significant names that are really important to family history or their own deep loves and interests. Other times they toss off silly or ridiculous names (“White cat,” “Diarrhea”) that they don’t take too seriously. But even those people always seem to appreciate the power of a veterinarian and their team referring to them by name.
It’s almost like magic.
Say My Name, Say My Name
Learning and remembering every new pet’s name during a busy day in the exam room can be a little difficult. But it’s a bigger necessity than ever before to brush up on your memory skills. According to a new survey by Banfield, one in two Gen Zers and one in three Millennials say they adopted a new dog or cat during this pandemic. That’s a lot of new pets rolling in with new names to remember in person and in email!
What might make it easier is that so many people pick the same names (or maybe that makes it harder?) Most of the popular pet names today aren’t very magical. A recent survey of pet adoptions during the pandemic last year found that top names for new puppies were Max, Buddy, Sadie, Murphy and Rocky. The exception is Bella, the heroine in the popular Twilight books and movies, which has been a top pick since the series got popular.
This fits with what Shawn Finch, DVM, practicing in Omaha, NE, sees: “Most common pet names? Bella. Also Lucy. Maybe Max for boys.”
Her favorite pet name remains “Joey Cupcake,” a newly-adopted beagle whose first name was picked by an adult and second name picked by a five-year-old.
And, brace yourself, one client in Colorado named his bulldog “Bulls***.”
“They made the dad change his name for the medical record,” Finch says. “I think they changed it to Spot.”
So, weird names, funny names, profoundly important names; clients like to know that you remember their pet’s name, that you remember them and that they matter.
So, How Do You Remember?
Dr. Jeff Werber, a practicing veterinarian in Southern California, says the pet’s name takes priority.
“I do my best to remember the pet’s name even better than the owner’s name,” Werber says. “When I see people out of practice, there’s nothing better than asking how Luna or Lola or Rosa is doing. It’s priceless as far as building that veterinarian-client bond.”
Even mess-ups can sometimes hilariously cement a client relationship.
Dr. Finch remembers mixing up names in the exam room once: “This one time, I picked up a super-cute tiny Pomeranian and held her over my head within earshot of mom and said, ‘Who’s the cutest? Is it Willow? Yes, Willow’s the cutest!’
“The client loved it,” she continues. “But, umm, the client’s name was Willow, not the dog. We never speak of it, but she still brings her dogs to see me, so she must be OK with having a dork for a vet,” Finch jokes.
That leads us right into our first tip:
1. Don’t crisscross patients and clients. Finch says she’s noticed a trend where people give pets really human names, and their own names seem more casual. “I have human clients with cute names like Spencer and Calvin, and pet patients with human names like Bob and Pete and Sally,” she shares.
2. Always double-check the record. Why trust yourself? Take a beat before you make the call, write the email or open the exam room door to make sure you’ve got it right. “I read the record every time, which is always right there in front of my face,” Finch says.
3. Attach the name to a story. Use that old memory trick of attaching the name to an image in your head. Werber recommends making sure to take the time and pay attention when talking to a client about the name for the first time. “If it’s from a foreign language, ask what it means. Ask the story behind the name. Show some care and curiosity,” he suggests.
4. Use the name to go the extra mile. Love the name? Tell the client. Ask where it’s from. Maybe even do a little leg work, like Finch did: “The best was a dog named ‘Khoshekh,’ which I thought I recognized as a character from a podcast drama my daughter listened to. I confirmed that, and when I called his dad, I asked if that was right, and he said in the seven years he’d had the dog, no one had asked him that. It totally made his day and mine.”
5. Don’t mess up the gender. “What’s worse than mixing up names is mixing up the sex,” Werber says. “Sometimes the client will correct you with venom.” Be sure to check the record or double-check “under the hood.”
Your veterinary hospital sees thousands of clients a year, and more pets than people. Clients want to know that you remember them and their pets. So, if remembering names isn’t your thing, take a moment to peek at the client’s record before walking into that exam room or try out some of the above tips. That one little word, which most pet owners hold very near and dear to their heart, can go a long way in helping to build that client-vet relationship. +