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The Boston Globe


Bella English

My name has gone to the dogs

Bella English and her dog, Gumbo. The dog is a rescue from the South with many canine ingredients; thus, Gumbo.

Bella English and her dog, Gumbo. The dog is a rescue from the South with many canine ingredients; thus, Gumbo.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, the popular girls’ names were Debby, Sue, Cathy, and Linda, with some Judys and Pattys and Sallys in the mix. I was named after my great-aunt Isobel, and I wasn’t thrilled about it. It would be decades before I met someone else named Bella, and she was the former congresswoman Bella Abzug, whom I was interviewing for a story.

Since then, I haven’t met another adult named Bella. Unless you’re talking about dogs. When I first googled my own name some years ago, what came up was a bunch of English bulldogs named Bella. When I did this again the other day, “images of bella english” came up: some very cute pups.

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Being a dog person myself, I am thrilled that Bella is the most popular name for female dogs or, as the American Kennel Club folks call them, bitches. (Disclaimer: This is not a swear. This is the correct name for a female dog. Just ask Merriam-Webster dictionary. The very first definition is: “the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals.”)

I like to say that the dogs I have loved are the best people I’ve ever known: loyal, loving, and ever-so-grateful for the smallest thing, such as a chin scratch or a belly rub.

Bella means “beautiful” in Italian, much to my embarrassment when I’ve been in Italy. Only a mother — uh, owner — could consider their English bulldogs beautiful, but they are pretty darn cute with their flat faces and bow-legged waddle.

Two of my friends have dogs named Bella. Both dogs are rescues: one a greyhound, one a shepherd, one in Milton, one in Westwood. I’m flattered — even though the dogs came with the name.

As far as the “rescue” business goes, I’m with the bumper sticker, “Who Rescued Who?” with the dogpawprint on it. Grammatically incorrect, it is nonetheless philosophically sound. Our “rescue” animals save us as much as we save them.

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Bella is also a popular baby name, and all of this Bella-rama is doubtless due to the success of “Twilight,” the teen vampire books whose protagonist is named Bella. Funny thing, there aren’t that many babies named Sue, Cathy, Debby, or Linda these days.

My name has spread overseas, too. My friend Rick, who is teaching at a Chinese university, blogs about his experiences. According to one recent post: “Bella is a very popular English name here because of the character in the ‘Twilight’ series. I think I have a Bella in every one of my classes.”

Bella apparently is also the top name for female cats, a species I merely tolerate. Second place? Kitty. How original. I’d go with Bella, myself.

My own dog is named Gumbo. He is a rescue of dubious parentage, a Southerner with lots of different ingredients. Hence, Gumbo.

And he’ll never have the copycat — and copydog — issues that my own name does: Have you ever heard of a person named Gumbo?

According to the latest survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, 77 percent of us consider our pets to be full-fledged members of the family. That’s a no-brainer. My husband has always said, only half-jokingly, that he knows his place in our family: number four, after the kids and the dog.

Indeed, the survey found that 90 percent of pet owners would fight more passionately for their pets than for money in a divorce.

But only 55 percent of us consider ourselves to be “Mom” or “Dad” to our pets. In our family, actually, it’s “Mama” and “Daddy.”

And 54 percent of us feel an emotional dependency on our pet. Count me in. Half of us would choose a pet rather than a human if stranded on a deserted island, and 45 percent believe that our pets listen to us best — over a family member or friend.

George Carlin once said that life is a series of dogs. Our family dogs have always known their place in our lives: either on the couch or the bed. And always, in our hearts.

Bella English lives in Milton. Shecan be reached at

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