A great number of silly things happen when you decide to sit down and write a book. One of them is that you forget to blog and two months go by. Another thing is that you notice some dog breeds are capitalized and others are not. Dog breeds are often named for the country, region, city, or person relevant to the origin of the breed. Others, however, are named using words that no one has bothered to translate for you. Until today.
The Australian kelpie is named for a water spirit of Scottish folklore, typically taking the form of a horse and reputed to delight in the drowning of travelers.
This entire dog breed etymology adventure began because I wasn’t sure whether names such as basset, corgi, or bichon frise were proper nouns.
The basset hound derives its name from Old French (bas means “low”), which originated from Late Latin (bassus means “thick, stumpy, or low”).
A Cardigan or Pembroke Welsh corgi is named for Ceredigion County and Pembrokeshire County, respectively, in Wales. They were originally bred for herding cattle and their name is a conjunction of the Welsh words cor (dwarf) and ci (dog).
Ollie is a bichon frise, which is French for “I like to hump everyone.” Hahaha just kidding. It means “small, curly-haired dog.”
The main takeaway here is that words like retriever, shepherd, terrier, hound, and mastiff are generally not capitalized, but there are exceptions.
When you write about a Great Dane, the word “Great” is capitalized to distinguish the dog breed from an accomplished person from Denmark. By the way, Deutsche dogge, German mastiff, and German boarhound were all once used to describe the Great Dane. Another exception where you capitalize for clarity is the Old English sheepdog.
Then there’s the Inu situation. Inu and ken both mean dog in Japanese, but they are both capitalized when listed as a breed name. In December 1936, the Shiba Inu and other Japanese dog breeds were recognized as a Natural Monument of Japan through their Cultural Properties Act. Shiba Inu means “little brushwood dog” and the Akita Inu is named for the city and port on the Sea of Japan in northern Honshu, Japan.
In any case, this capitalization business is somewhat arbitrary because when you write your own blog or book, you can make all your dog breed names capitalized if you wish (the AKC and other websites do this). The key is to maintain consistency, otherwise you may annoy your readers, and nobody wants that.
The Airedale terrier originated in the valley (dale) of the River Aire, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. It is traditionally called the “King of Terriers” because it is the largest of the terrier breeds.
The Jack Russell terrier is named after the Reverend John “Jack” Russell.
Terrier is derived from Medieval Latin terrarius (of earth). So called because the dogs pursue their quarry (vermin and varmints) into their burrows.
Examples of spitz breeds include the Siberian husky, Malamute, Samoyed, Akita, shar-pei, Shiba Inu, Pomeranian, and Welsh corgi. Most spitzes are well suited to living in harsh northern climates. They often have an insulating, waterproof undercoat that is denser than the topcoat to trap warmth. Small, upright ears help to reduce the risk of frostbite, and thick fur on their paws protects them from sharp ice.
The Alaskan Malamute’s name derives from the Inupiat people called Mahlemut, who lived between the rivers Kobuk and Noatak in northwestern Alaska. The Samoyed is named for the Samoyed people of far northern European Russia and Siberia.
The Finnish Lapphund herds reindeer and are named for Lapland, a region of northern Europe north of the Arctic Circle. Pomeranians are named for the historical region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea in central Europe.
The (Chinese) shar-pei name likely originates from the romanized Cantonese sā pèih, which translates to “sand skin” and refers to the texture of its short, rough coat.
When referring to the shih tzu breed, you are again dealing with the romanization of Chinese characters. These, however, mean “lion dog.”
Alsatian shepherds (German shepherd dogs) are from the Germany-France border area of Alsace-Lorraine.
The Russian word for “fast” is borzoi. Nazer (a borzoi) is a Russian wolfhound also known as a Russian hunting sighthound. They resemble other sighthounds such as Afghan hounds, greyhounds, and saluki. While hunting, these breeds rely on keen vision and speed more than their sense of smell.
The Boykin spaniel is named after Lemuel Whitaker Boykin, a renowned hunter from South Carolina. Traditionally, smaller spaniel dogs startled woodcock and snipe in woods or marshes, and were called cocker spaniels. The English springer spaniel is a larger breed named for their ability to flush (spring) birds into the air.
The Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-in-wah) are named for Malines, the French name for Mechelen, the breed’s Flemish city of origin (Flemish refers to the region of Flanders, Belgium).
The Brussels griffon derives its name from the mythological creature with head and wings of an eagle, and a body and hind quarters of a lion. It was believed to inhabit Scythia and liked to guard its gold. Interestingly, the Brussels griffon was the inspiration to create Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.
Although Lhasa apso sounds like something Jar Jar Binks might say, Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet, and apso is a word in the Tibetan language meaning “bearded.”
Doberman pinschers are named for the German dog breeder Friedrich Ludwig Dobermann. The experts don’t agree on what “pinscher” means. Some argue it refers to the clipped ears, but others say it has to do with the breed’s propensity to bite.
The Komondor name means “Cuman dog.” The Cumans were a nomadic people and part of a tribal confederation in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe, between the tenth and thirteenth centuries AD.
As far as the Neapolitan mastiff goes, Neapolitan means “of Naples” and mastiff, from Latin mansuétus, means “tame or mild.”
The papillon (French for butterfly) acquires its name from the butterfly look of the long and fringed hair on the ears, but a papillon with dropped ears is called a phalène (French for moth).
Without any connection to a specific pharaoh, the pharaoh hound is not capitalized. The legend is that they descend from ancient Egyptian dogs.
Obviously, an Irish setter is the version of setter bred in Ireland. Less obvious is the fact that a setter is a hunting dog specially bred from the spaniel and the pointer. Modern setters are trained to indicate the position of game birds by standing in a fixed position, but they once indicated game by sitting or crouching (i.e., “setting”).
Saint Bernards were originally bred by the hospice of the Great Saint Bernard Pass on the Italian-Swiss border. Saint Bernard (AD 1091-1153) was a famous Catholic monk who liked to drink rum and rescue travelers in the snow.
In Lingala, the language of the Congo, basenji means “villager dogs.”
Catahoula leopard dogs are named after the Catahoula Parish in Louisiana.
Chihuahuas are named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
A dachshund gains its name from dachs, which is German for badger.
Dalmatians are named for Dalmatia, a historical region in southern Croatia.
Plott hounds are named for the German American breeder Johannes George Plott.
Rottweilers are named after Rottweil, a town in southwest Germany.
The German word for growler is schnauzer.
The Hungarian word for “pointing dog” is vizsla.
Weimaraners are named after the city (Weimar) in Germany.
I tried looking up boxer and poodle, but I had to throw in the towel. Neither one of these breed names are capitalized since they are both allegedly “corruptions” of German words. The etymology experts have provided unwieldy explanations for these names, but if you ask me, I’m pretty sure it’s because boxers like to box and poodles like puddles.