Brees! Chicory! Tchoup! Nola!
It’s not unusual to hear those names called out in the dog park. New Orleans has its own set of names for canine companions.
New Orleans dogs are often the namesakes of the cuisine (Gumbo, Roux, Beignet, Po-Boy, Boudin); the Saints (Brees, Payton, Deuce); music (Toussaint, Jazz, Satchmo); streets (Clio, Tchoupitoulas, Calliope); neighborhoods (Pearl, Touro, Gert) and Mardi Gras krewes (Zulu, Rex, Bacchus).
The list is endless. We name babies after family members we love, so it’s just natural that we name our dogs for the things in New Orleans we love.
Jolanda Walter wasn’t looking for a dog; she was a bona fide “cat person.” But a wandering stray found on Mirabeau Street in Gentilly ended up at Walker’s door, brought by a friend who had plucked her off the street. During Walter’s search to find the owner of the rat terrier/schnauzer mix, she made a trip to what she thought was the dog's home on the West Bank.
“When the woman saw the dog, she said, ‘That’s not my Coco,’ which cemented my relationship with Mirabeau. He is definitely no Coco,” said Walter. Mirabeau, now about 6 years old, is a solid member of the Walter family.
“Mirabeau is the dog that taught me how to love dogs. My kids are jealous of him. As they should be. He is always by my side, sleeping or just looking adorable,” said Walter.
Another local canine, Australian cattle dog Barqs, has a name that sounds like the way a dog, well, barks. But New Orleanians recognize that the herding dog is named for the homegrown root beer created in 1898, a line of sodas still produced today by Coca-Cola Company.
“My husband named her from the photograph we saw before we met her. I hesitated and couldn’t make it fit; the name seemed masculine, and the puppy was a girl. Turns out, it is the perfect name. Barqs talks back a lot,” said Dr. Leslie Pence, Barqs' owner and a veterinarian at Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital in Metairie.
With her expressive face and outsize personality, Barqs is a minor celebrity: She has an Instagram following of 3,000.
"She has followers in Brazil and Australia, where they may know the breed, but not the name, which is an unknown commodity to the rest of the world,” said Pence's husband, Michael Samardzija, who oversees social media for the 8-month-old red heeler (her registered AKC name is Barq’s Red Cream Soda).
Dr. Veronica Alexander and her husband Benjamin Weber always wanted a big dog, but medical school for her and graduate school for him just did not allow the time to care for a canine. Three years ago, Weber got Alexander the big dog she wanted as a graduation present, a Great Dane they named Toussaint.
Toussaint was not named for the local late musician/songwriter Allen Toussaint who gave us songs like “Southern Nights” and “Mother-in-Law,” but rather for François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian independence movement during the French Revolution in 1795.
“But we always reference Allen Toussaint; otherwise people think we’re saying Tucson,” said Weber.
Ramiro Diaz, a local architect, and his wife Andra Aitken, a graphic designer and yoga teacher, admit they have "failed" at fostering more than once. Fostering turns into family. And that’s how Milne came into their lives eight years ago.
She had been rescued by Animal Helper and was a very young new mom to a litter of puppies. Diaz and Aitken kept the name Milne when she was adopted, assuming the lab mix had been named after the street.
Turns out, she was named after the Milne Boys Home in Gentilly, where she had been living in abandoned buildings after Katrina, giving birth to her puppies there. In another twist of New Orleans fate, Diaz would turn out to be the lead designer for the post-Katrina renovation of the classical-style buildings that housed the former boys home (and Milne’s puppies).
New Orleanian Erin Matthews’s dog Tchoupitoulas has a full name — Tchoupitoulas Lyons.
That’s what her husband Justin Matthews, a pro scout for the Saints, named the bulldog in 2009. At the time he was a Tulane student working at F&M Patio Bar at Tchoupitoulas and Lyons streets. However, the dog named for a popular intersection that adds up to six syllables is usually called by a monosyllable name — Tchoups.
Ellen Johnson, a former public relations director for the Tennessee Williams Festival, and her husband, Dr. Ronald Swartz, named their first female Weimaraner Stella in 1985, long before Johnson did work for the local literary festival.
“I just remember thinking it was an appropriate name because I would probably be in the backyard yelling ‘STELLA-A-A!’ — like in Streetcar (Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play ‘Streetcar Named Desire’),” said Johnson. Now there is a Stella II, one of five Weimaraners the couple has adopted from a rescue over the years.
Sometimes, however, New Orleans names don't translate in other regions, even when the states border each other.
“When I moved to Dallas, I had to spell my dog’s name. Otherwise, it would end up written down or typed as Roo or Rue,” said Stella Molina, a marketing executive who recently moved to Houston.
“R-O-U-X,” Molina would say, spelling it out for those who weren’t into the cuisine of other cultures, Molina would then have to explain the flour-and-fat mixture was the first step to making a gumbo, and that it was the same warm brown color as her dog.
Roux, now 15, is a “mostly Dachshund” rescue. Last year, Molina and her fiance, Mike Duffy, adopted a French bulldog and named him Beignet, even though the name has been shortened to Benny, which means no spelling or translation required.
But when the couple returns in December to the wedding they have planned here, both Roux and Beignet will be back (as flower girl and ring bearer) where their names need no explanation.
Kelly Stoll Hespel, a project manager for an engineering firm in Baltimore, knows how those New Orleans names that are transported across state lines require some explaining.
When she adopted her English bulldog from a Texas rescue group, she named him Tchoupitoulas. The transplanted Hespel enjoys the reaction she gets when she fills out a form with a canine name that is foreign to Marylanders.
“They continue to look down for a long time, and then they look back up at me. I just proudly explain that my dog is named for one of my favorite streets in New Orleans,” she said.