Name Calling: The Origin of Breed Names Can Be Enlightening


  • March 29, 2019
  • by Dan Sayers

Pictured Above: The Beagle, Ch. Meadow Lark Wiseman, features the long ear leather and gaily-carried tail common to most scent hound breeds. Photos courtesy of The American Kennel Club 1938 Blue Book of Dogs

"Name Calling" - from the March 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe

The Origin of Breed Names Can Be Enlightening

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to purebred dogs the answer turns out to be just about everything. Breed names tell a story. Each one represents a dog’s place of origin, its intended occupation and the people who brought it to bear. The name of a breed can suggest its size (Miniature Pinscher), color (Black Russian Terrier), coat texture (Curly-Coated Retriever) or pattern (Blue-tick Coonhound). A breed’s name might also betray a bit of cultural appropriation. Take, for example, the Tibetan Spaniel and the Tibetan Terrier. These two breeds from the “Roof of the World” were identified—incorrectly—by the British men and women who brought them to the West. Although these pioneers certainly got the place name correct, the Brits’ familiarity with their homegrown ratters and gun dogs ultimately lead them astray. (To the contrary, the “large dog from Tibet” was correctly designated by The Kennel Club as the Tibetan Mastiff in 1873.) When it comes to generalized types of dogs, family names typically originated either in the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance or throughout the Age of Enlightenment. In any case, the study of the origin of dog names is 
always enlightening.


The Hound in Pursuit

An early English reference to a “hunt with hounds” was recorded in 1520. In a letter to King Henry VIII, Sir Richard Wingfield gives an account of a boar hunt at the French court in which “twenty couple of hounds, with three or four braces of mastiffs let slip, all which drew to the bay...” The French King, Francis I, was a military ruler who ordered circles cut out of the forests that were then crisscrossed by paths. This clearing pattern allowed hunters with their running hounds to pinpoint the exact position of their quarry (France is the only country with such delineations hewn into its woodland, with more than 390 official hunts registered today.) More than 70 breeds and varieties of Scent Hounds are recognized by the Federation Cinologique Internationale (FCI), with roughly two dozen from France alone.

The earliest English language book to refer to packs of running hounds is The Noble Art of Venery or Hunting (1575), by George Gascoigne. (Credit is also given to English poet George Turberville, whose The Book of Falconry or Hawking was sometimes bound together with Gascoigne’s work.) The word “hound” comes from the Old English Hund which is derived from the Old High German Hunt. The Proto-Germanic Hundaz descended from Proto-Indo-European Kwntós and Pre-Proto-Indo-European Kwón. Each of these words refers to the “dog.” However, by the 16th century the word hound (German hund, Dutch hond, and Greek kuon) came to mean a dog intended “to pursue relentlessly.” Whether Continental, British or even American, a good Scent Hound is just as determined today to find its intended prey as were the Hounds of the French King.

The Celtic people of central Europe are thought to have initially realized the extraordinary scenting ability of certain Mastiff-type dogs. Through selective breeding of the Alaunt Veantre and the Alaunt Boucherie, the Celts produced gigantic hounds capable of following a trail without end. In time, it is thought that these hounds were crossed with the lightly-built Gazehounds brought by knights returning from the Middle East. The product of these couplings possessed an increased lightness of bone, swiftness of foot and ease of temperament. The first established breed of Scent Hound was developed in a Belgian monastery. The Saint Hubert Hound eventually spread across Europe and, in Normandy, its descendants became the Talbot Hound. In Britain, its fruit bore the Southern Hound. Although both of these medieval breeds ultimately became extinct, their lineage is identified today by names both foreign and familiar.


The Herdsman’s Shepherd

Very little has been written about the origin of the Shepherd’s dog. When compared with Gaston III, Count of Foix’s Livre de Chasse which was translated into English by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York as The Master of Game, most references to the development of sheepdogs are relegated to the lyrics of poetry and folksongs. However, in De Canibus Britannicus, published in Latin (1570) and English (1576), Dr. Johannes Caius catalogs both Canis Villaticus (livestock guardians) and Canis Pastoralis (the Shepherd’s Dogge). By its very name, the latter dog belongs to the shepherd by whose side it works managing sheep.

From the Proto-Germanic word skepa and the West Germanic skapa came the Old English word sceaphierde (sheep + herd or ‘herdsman’), and the Middle English schepherde. “Shepherd” corresponds with the Old High 
German scaf, the Old Saxon skap, the Old Frisian skep and the Old Dutch schaap. The Dutch Sheepdog is known as the Schapendoes and the Schipperke is recognized on a definitive basis by the FCI as a member of its Group 1, Section 1: Sheepdogs. Of the more than 50 breeds and varieties of Sheepdogs recognized by the FCI, nine use the English word sheepdog in their name, and 15 include the word shepherd. Of the latter group, perhaps the most easily recognized breed the world over is the German Shepherd Dog.

The word “dog” has never existing in the German language, so it’s interesting that it appears as part of the German Shepherd Dog’s official English name. Duetscher Schäferhund is this noble breed’s given name. In 1891, the Phylax (a Greek word meaning “guardian”) Society was formed in an effort to standardize the dog breeds of Deutschland. Although the club disbanded after only three years, the organization inspired ex-cavalry captain Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz to found the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde or Society for the German Shepherd Dog. Von Stephanitz and his dog Horand von Grafrath (originally named Hektor Linksrhein) are considered the fathers of the modern breed and their legacy lives on in one of dogdom’s most distinguished purebreds.

Pictured below: Ch. Chlodulf Vom Pelztierhof was brought to California from Germany by Mr. and Mrs. Anton Korbel following the 1936 Olympic Games.


The Devoted Spaniel

One of the earliest books of “cynegetica” (hunting literature) to mention specific types of dogs is L’Art de Venerie (1327), by Anglo-Norman Master of Game William Twiti (Twici). In his treatise, Twiti describes hunting with the Alaunt (a Molossian-type from Iran), the Limer (a leashed scent hound), running Pack Hounds, the Greyhound and the Mastiff. Also mentioned is the Espaigneul, a small dog used to flush birds from dense undergrowth to be caught inflight by the falcon and, later, the net. These busy little dogs were identified by their long, drooping ears and a long, silky coat of red and white. By the Elizabethan Era, the name “Spaniel” was given to a wide variety of dog types, including the Alpine Spaniel, the progenitor of the Saint Bernard. Caius divided Spaniels into land, setting and water varieties, and also mentions the “Lap-Dogs, namely the Spaniel-Gentle, or comforter.”

The word “Spaniel” is thought to derive from the Latin Hispaniolus for “Spanish.” Espaigneul was the medieval French word which, in turn, became éspagneul. Simply stated, the Spaniel is considered a “Spanish” dog. However, several theories exist as to the actual origin of this type of dog, and each is a rebuttal of the Duke of York’s early work. The first theory speculates that French knights returning from the Holy Land in the 12th century brought with them the progeny of their Braques Français (French Pointers) bred to Arabian gazehounds. By the 14th century, the descendants from this cross eventually became the French Spaniel. Another theory proposes a Celtic origin. In the 1909 reprint of Dr. Caius’ work, the editors suggest that the ancestors of the British Spaniel breeds were first brought to Cornwall from Spain. From Kernow, they spread throughout Wales, England and Ireland.

Perhaps the most extraordinary theory for the rise of the modern Spaniel is proposed by British author Colonel David Hancock. In The Heritage of the Dog, Col. Hancock proposes that it was the Romans who brought the ancestors of the “sporting type” of Spaniel into Brittania. Centuries ago, he offers, the Roman armies brought small dogs— ancestors of the Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Tibetan Spaniel—from China to mainland Europe by way of the ancient trade routes to the Far East. According to the author, the descendants of these dogs eventually became breeds such as the Épagneul Nain (Papillon), the Blenheim Spaniels and then the cocking and setting Spaniels. Although the Spaniel moniker was ultimately dropped in the case of the British and Irish Setters, it remains part of the name of such Continental breeds as the Picardy, Blue Picardy and Pont-Audemer Spaniels.

Pictured below: The result of the period’s finest bench, field and companion lines, Parti Cocker Spaniel Ch. My Own On Time II was bred by Herman Mellenthin.


The Northern Spitz

Many of the breeds from the world’s northern regions developed in direct association with isolated human settlements. When the canine genome was successfully mapped in 2004, the ancient origins of many Northern breeds was revealed. Among the oldest are two of the Nordic Sledge breeds, the Samoyed and Alaskan Malamute. The Chow Chow from China and the Japanese Akita are the most ancient of breeds placed into the FCI Group 5, Section 5: Asian Spitz and Related Breeds. However, despite their originating in the Far East, their Spitz label is of European extraction.

The German word for “spike” is spitze, derived from the Middle High German spiz and the Old High German spizzi. The word for “pointed” is spitz, and it is this word that the German-speaking peoples of Europe gave to their dogs with pointed muzzles—and pointed ears. This type of domestic dog was first described by German Naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in his 1788 revision of Carl Linnaeus’ System Naturae. Linnaeus was a Swedish physician, zoologist and botanist who first classified the natural world into three kingdoms: plant, animal and mineral. Linnaeus also gave the domestic dog its familiar Latin name, Canis Lupus Familiaris. Gmelin and his contemporaries originally thought that Canis Pomeranus (from Pomerania where small Spitz-type dogs were popular among aristocratic families) was brought to Northern Europe by the Vikings during the Middle Ages. However, modern genetic research points to the development of the Duetscher Spitz to the mid-19th century.

The FCI Group 5: Spitz and Primitive Breeds includes Sections 4 (European Spitz) and 5 (Asian Spitz and Related Breeds). In Germany, the Deutscher Spitz (German Spitz) is considered a single breed distinguished by size and color. The Wolfspitz (Keeshond), Grossspitz (Giant Spitz), Mittelspitz (Medium Spitz), Kleinspitz (Small Spitz) and the Zwergspitz (Pomeranian) all have Germanic origins. The only exception is the Volpino Italiano (Italian Volpino) which was already established in Northern Italy by the Renaissance. The breeds of Section 5 include the Chow Chow (China), the Jindo Dog (Korea), and various Japanese breeds: Akita, American Akita, Hokkaido, Kai, Kishu, Shiba and Shikoku. The Japanese Spitz resulted from white Kleinspitz imported to Japan through northeastern China in the 1920s and ‘30s. The breed is similar to, but not the same as, the miniature variety of the American Eskimo Dog. Another breed in Section 4 provides a link between the Eastern Spitz breeds with their Western cousins. Developed in Germany, the Eurasier combines the best qualities of the Keeshond and the Chow, with a little Samoyed added to the mix. A more fitting name could not have been given to this watchful, yet companionable, Spitz.

Pictured below: Ch. Perfection of Emrose Hill was shown twice in 1937, earning a Group Second at Westminster and a Group First at the Long Island Kennel Club.


The Earthly Terrier

Credited to the Benedictine Prioress of the Priory of St. Mary of Sopwell, Dame Juliana Berners (or Barnes), the Boke of Seynt Alban, published in 1486, includes essays on hawking, heraldry and hunting (with angling included in later editions). It is widely believed that the work was “translatyd” and “compylyt” from an earlier French treatise, specifically L’Art de Venerie. In both works, dogs are described by their function. “First there is a greyhound, a bastard, a mongrel, a mastiff, a liner, a spaniel, raches (small-to-medium sized scenthound), kennets (small hunting dogs), terriers, butcher’s hounds, dung-heap dogs, trundle tails (lapdogs?) and prick-eared curs, and small ladies’ puppies that bear away the fleas and diverse small sorts.” In the ensuing five hundred years, the Terriers had become specialized, with legs long or short depending on the local conditions. The original hunting Terriers were much like the fell (hilly) terriers developed in northern England or the hunt terriers that followed packs of hounds in pursuit of the fox.

The word Terrier is borrowed from the Middle and Old French chien terrier or “terrier dog.” This portmanteau was derived from the Medieval Latin terrarius (of earth) which became the oft-quoted reference to the Latin word for earth, terra. The name Terrier has been in use since the 15th century. Three centuries later, Terriers had become an essential working man’s partner in both rural and urban communities. For a century or more, crosses were made with the Bulldog to produce combinations used for bull-baiting and dog fighting. The descendants of these bull and terrier crosses were refined to become distinct breeds on both sides of the Atlantic. In one American city, the rough-and-tumble Terrier was transformed into a stylish companion. By the turn of the last century, the “Olde Boston Bulldogge” had quickly become a sensation in its hometown. Today, the Boston Terrier isn’t classified as a Terrier at all. Instead, the “American Gentleman” competes in AKC’s Non-Sporting Group and in FCI Group 9—Companion and Toy Dogs.

More than 30 breeds of Terriers are recognized by the world’s kennel clubs today, most originating in Great Britain and Ireland. The few Terrier breeds that don’t (American Staffordshire, Australian, Brazilian, Cesky, Jagdterrier and Japanese) descend from stock originating in the British Isles with admixtures of other European or indigenous dogs. However, long before the descendants of these hybrids found their way into the Stud Book, those early English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh dogs were working hard to forge a life on the farm, in the pit and underground. It is most assured that Dame Berners, Dr. Caius, Mssr. Gascoigne and the Count of Foix would be happy to see today’s Terriers turning out vermin, even if the coats they wear are a bit fanciful. 

Pictured below: Fanciers of any generation would be hard-pressed to find a finer example of a Terrier than Smooth Fox Ch. Nornay Saddler.

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