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AUJA: Why is “Fido” a generic name for dogs?

February 17, 2014

Uncle John knows pretty much everything—and for what he doesn’t know, he has a massive research library. So go ahead: in the comments below, ask Uncle John anything. (And if we answer your question sometime, we’ll send you a free book!)

Why is “Fido” a generic name for dogs?

FidoWhile neither you or anyone you know probably has a dog with an old-fashioned, generic dog name like Spot, Bingo, or Fido anymore, in the 19th century, “Fido” was an extremely common name for the family pooch. It’s a good name befitting dogs, too—it’s a Latin word that means “faithful” or “trustworthy.” It was even a popular dog name in ancient Rome, where they spoke Latin.

But the reason we associate that name with dogs in the modern day is because Americans love to imitate what celebrities do. A very popular celebrity named their dog Fido, and lots of American followed suit. The popular celebrity? Abraham Lincoln.

As a young lawyer in Illinois, Lincoln kept many pets, which reportedly helped him fight off his frequent depressive episodes. In about 1855, a few years before he became president, Lincoln took ownership of a stray mixed breed dog named Fido. There are accounts from the day of Lincoln walking through the streets of Springfield, Illinois, Fido always trotting behind. However, when Lincoln won the election of 1860, necessitating a move to Washington, his dog-averse wife Mary Todd Lincoln asked him to leave Fido behind. Lincoln obliged, leaving Fido in the care of a Springfield carpenter, planning to retrieve the dog when his term concluded.

Lincoln’s youngest sons Tad and Willy were understandably sad about being separated from the family dog, so President Lincoln had the dog sit (good boy!) for a series of photographic portraits—an expensive and rare option in the 1860s. Prints were given to the boys to look at for when they missed Fido, now the first presidential dog caught on film.

As it is now, the public was hungry for details about the personal life of President Lincoln, leading to many national magazines to print those Fido photos. By the time Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, never to reunite with ol’ Fido, “Fido” was the most common dog name in the U.S.

Hope you have a dog-gone great Presidents Day.

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tim culpepper

what is the largest dog in history?

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