Naming Willow

Warren and willow, May 16, 2009

(We picked out Summer, our next golden retriever, on Sunday. More on that later. Today here is my remembrance of how Willow got her name.)

CRASH! Cj and I jumped. Again.

We were in a bar on a Saturday afternoon not too far from where we lived. We thought we’d try it out, have some lunch, and talk about what we would name the puppy.

Onyah had died the day after Easter 2009. She was a little more than 11 years old and had been declining for some time. The day after Easter, she woke up panting for breath, and Cj knew it was time.

“I don’t think I want another dog, not for a long time,” she said. We still had a little shitzu mix named Haley, who was getting up in years himself. When we first made a home together, I brought Tucker the German shepherd and my black-and-white cats Baxter and Buster to join Onyah, Haley and Bam-Bam the Maine coon cat. Tucker had died in my arms at home a couple of years earlier, and Baxter and Buster were also gone, but somehow Bam-Bam had now been joined by Codi, Beeker, Boop, Hemi, Pumpkin and Blackberry, so it wasn’t like we had no furry friends around the house.

But Haley was the last dog, and Cj said he would be the last dog for a long time.

“A long time” lasted about two weeks.

“We should get another golden retriever puppy,” she said.

“I thought — never mind,” I said.

Not only that, but she had found a breeder in Brussels, about 10 miles from the land where we hoped to build a house in Door County someday (and would, three years later). We were planning to visit the place — two of their females had recently given birth, and one litter was almost old enough to go to their forever homes. It was early May, and they had been born March 28.

CRASH! We jumped again. For reasons we never quite understood, every time someone emptied a bottle, the bartender would toss it into a 55-gallon drum next to the bar. So, for the half-hour or so we were there, we experienced a half-dozen or more CRASHes. This may surprise you, but we never went back to that bar.

The decision had been made: We would be going to the place in Brussels and picking out a new golden retriever, and just for fun we were talking about what her name should be.

Onyah got her name from an uncle who had a golden retriever named Fooey. The uncle had a way of saying “Fooey on yah” when he was bemused, and Fooey was a wonderful dog, and so when it was time to adopt her own golden, Cj had honored Fooey’s memory by naming the puppy Onyah.

We tried out dozens of names for size. Fooey II was one of the first contenders, but it didn’t quite fill the bill. To be honest, I don’t remember most of the names we tossed about, but I do remember we tried out names of other great dogs we had known, movie characters, famous celebrities, presidents, brand names (Tucker had been named for the car when my former wife vetoed Studebaker), and characters from our favorite TV shows.

We were on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and had gone through Buffy, Cordelia, Angel, Willow …


“Willow?” I said. “Willow …”

“Willow!” Cj said.

“Willow!” we said together.

CRASH! We jumped. But we had the puppy’s name.

The breeder was set up in an old barn, but it was clean and warm and cozy.

“We only have this little girl left from the 7-week-olds, but you can take a look at the 5-week-olds, too, if you want,” she said, bringing us to a fenced-in area in the barn where a quiet little ball of fur was sitting. She was adorable, of course. All puppies are adorable.

I picked her up and cradled her against my chest.

I looked in her eyes and asked, “Are you Willow?” She snuggled right in. Yep. She was. Instantly, I had no doubt.

“Do you want to look at the 5-week-olds?” the breeder asked Cj as I looked at the little girl.

“No,” I said, probably a little too quickly. “This is Willow.” And she was.

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