The Heartwarming Psychology of Pet Nicknames

From “Poopsie” to “Fashion Potato,” why we love silly pet names for our pets

Rae Paoletta
Published in
4 min readDec 10, 2019
Dave, aka Dr. David Catz and Davely Cakes. Photo: Andrea_A75

Every pet owner is fluent in the gibberish they speak with their fur children; the gobbledygook of praise understood by a select few animals and confused human friends.

It’s not just the toxoplasmosa gondii cats have probably lodged in our brains, or the small surge of serotonin released when we pet a dog — there’s a psychological explanation for how our pets’ names go from “Doc” to “The Illustrious Captain Fatty.

What’s in a pet’s pet name?

Zadie, aka Grand Fuzz Railroad. Photo: IBatheDaily

A lot, apparently.

Research confirms what we all anecdotally know to be true; nicknames are associated with stronger relationships. We award nicknames to the people (and pets) in our lives we feel a special bond with.

Suzanne Degges-White, a counselor and professor at Northern Illinois University, has extensively studied friendships and familial relationships. She says “couplespeak”—inside jokes and nicknames used by people in love—develop over time in happy partnerships.

“As couples get closer and their relationships build, the use of personal idioms and inside jokes increases,” Degges-White writes in Psychology Today. “In fact, research shows that personal idiom usage is a sign of relationship solidarity.”

So what does this have to do with a toilet cat named Mr. Baby?

Ries aka Smug, Mr. Smug, Mr. Baby, Mr. Cat, and when anyone is doing work in the house, The Supervisor. Photo: Crusaderzakk

Obviously, we don’t call our dogs “Trash Gremlin” because we want to marry them. But in the same way we give a nickname to a friend or loved one, we give our pets ridiculous names as shorthand; it’s a way of showing they’re part of our most sacred inner circle.

“I think we use terms of endearment for those we love and that includes the pets that are part of our families,” animal behaviorist Frania



Rae Paoletta

content strategist and writer; friend to bodega cats