A Dog’s Name (Paul Adkin)
I got him second-hand.
His first owners had called him Kafka, which I had to change: an ennobling name for a dog, but demeaning for the great Prague writer. I suppose that, because he was a German Shepherd they had wanted to give him a German name, assuming that Kafka, who wrote in German, had been a Hun himself. But, for me, Kafka was completely inappropriate. Foreigners should always be assimilated into our culture, even foreign dogs. So, I opened a can of Pal and re-baptised him Rin-Tin-Tin.
Well, yes, I know, Rin-Tin-Tin was a Yanky dog working for the US Cavalry, but I did Aussify it to Rinnie. Nevertheless, the ex-Kafka responded in a most disdainful way to this new name, and whenever I yelled ‘Come Rinnie!’ he would turn his tail to me and stroll away in the exact opposite direction as if he were hunting imaginary Indians.
Assuming that I had insulted the mutt, who must have assumed himself to be a great writer, I decided to give him another name and, maintaining the literary theme whilst updating the nationality, I called him Henry Lawson. This seemed to stir his curiosity, but not in a definitive man’s-best-friend way. In fact, all it really did was inspire a tilt of the head and a kind of ironic doggy pant whenever he was ordered to fetch. Not even when we encountered a mongrel bitch in the park called Louisa did he show any affinity to his roots. He sniffed under her shaggy tail and then turned away. Didn’t even wag his own. Which made me have to think again about what I should call him.
Experiments were carried out with Peter Carey (growl), Gerald Murnane (woof) and finally Patrick White. But when he was Paddy he bit me on the hand and I needed a tetanus shot and a rabies injection and seven stitches.
It was then I sensed that there might be another solution for my literary dog: I decided to make him a character from a book. The first try was Frodo, then Bilbo Baggins. When they didn’t work I experimented with Heathcliff and Raskolnikov. Yes, I know, I’d gone foreign again. Unconsciously so, but the problem was that no great Australian character came to my mind. Well I did try Snowy for a while, as an abbreviation of The Man From… but it was totally wrong for that German Shepherd.
The final solution eventually came in a most unexpected way. We were at home watching telly. The dog was still awkwardly being Raskolnikov. Channel 9 were showing that film about D-Day with Henry Fonda and when a sudden da-da-da-daaaaa rang out, Rasky pricked up his ears. The da-da-da-daaaaa was repeated and Rasky barked.
‘Beethoven!’ I cried, and the dog jumped up, his front paws in my lap digging into my balls as he licked my face. ‘Beethoven,’ I repeated. And he panted Pal all over me. The music in the film: the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth.
‘Beethoven! You’re Beethoven! Ludwig Van, man!’
And we ran to the park with his squeaky rubber bone to celebrate the finding of a name.