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One stereotypical name for a dog is Fido, from the Latin for faithful.

Another stereotypical dog-name is Rover. How long has Rover been a common name for a dog in English?

Does it have anything to with the the famous Sea Dogs from the dawn of the Age of Sail, who would often do battle with sea rovers, if not indeed become such themselves? Were ships’ sea-dogs the first ones to be named Rover?

logo of the HMS Sea Rover


EDIT: Another way to phrase the question is, during what period of English literature did Rover first begin to appear as a common dog’s name? 1300s? 1900s? There should be a discrete answer here.

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OED: 1a person who spends their time wandering. Doesn't seem weird for a dog. –  SF. Jan 4 '13 at 14:44
    
Do we have a dogsSE or petsSE (seriously)? –  Kris Jan 6 '13 at 11:32
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The earliest dog named Rover I found is in a 1718 list of common names for hunting dogs.

Etymology

Rover was a common name for a hunting dog in 1718, along with other names such as Bouncer, Fiddler, Gallant, Lively, Ranger, Ruffler, Soundwell, Trouncer, Traveller and Wonder.

The name is most likely from rover, n.2 in the OED, specifically sense 2a:

A person who travels from place to place without fixed route or destination, esp. over a wide area; a wanderer, a roamer; a nomad. Also: an animal which ranges over a wide area.

This is etymologically from the -er suffix applied to rove v.2, the first definition in the OED being:

To shoot at an arbitrarily selected mark, and senses deriving from this.

Etymology: Origin uncertain; perhaps a midland form corresponding to northern rave v.2, either as an analogical formation or as the non-northern reflex of a borrowing < the possible early Scandinavian etymon of rave v.2 (although this would imply a date of borrowing significantly earlier than either English word is attested).

On the other hand, the etymology of piratical rover, n.1 (cf *sea-rover*) is:

< Middle Dutch rōver or its cognate Middle Low German rōver reaver n. Compare Middle Dutch seerōver , Middle Low German sērȫver sea-rover n. and also Anglo-Norman roveres sur le mere , plural (1429 or earlier). Compare later rove v.1

1839

The boy's country-book (1839) by William Howitt features a happy dog called Rover:

Never was there a happier lad now than Ben, or a happier dog than Rover.

1801

The school for children, or A selection of instruction and entertaining tales (1801) "from the French of" Vincent de Langres Lombard features a poem called "VERSES TO MY DOG, ROVER, WHEN GROWN OLD.":

VERSES TO MY DOG, ROVER, WHEN GROWN OLD

And there's a song in The farmer's boy: a rural poem (1801) by Robert Bloomfield called "THE SHEPHERD AND HIS DOG ROVER":

THE SHEPHERD AND HIS DOG ROVER

Which was also printed in The Monthly mirror: reflecting men and manners (1801):

The Shepherd and his Dog Rover

1780

A General Dictionary of the English Language (1780) by Thomas Sheridan may offer an etymology. The definition for ranger gives both "a rover" (presumably human) and "a dog that beats the ground" as synonyms for ranger. Perhaps ranger was first applied to "dogs that beat the ground".

Ranger: One that ranges, a rover ; a dog that beats the ground ; an officer who tends the game of a forest.

1740

Poetical works (1740) by William Somerville (1675 – 1742) includes "The Officious Messenger, A Tale" which appears to feature a dog called Rover:

Ye world-makers of Gresham-hall,
Dog Rover shall confute you all ;
Shall prove that every reasoning brute
Like Ben of Bangor can dispute;

...

Rover, as heralds are agreed,
Well-born, and of the fetting breed,
Rang'd high,was stout, of nose acute,
A very learn'd and courteous brute.

...

With him obsequious Rover trudg'd,
Nor from his heels one moment budg'd;

...

The trusty Rover lay hard by,
Observing all with curious eye.

...

The servants, to the stranger kind,
Leave trusty Rover still behind.

...

Rover, who now began to quake,
As conscious of his foul mistake,
Trusts to his heels to save his life;

1718

It appears in a list of "Hunters' TERMS, &c" in The compleat sportsman (1718) by Giles Jacob, and is given as a common name for a hunting hound:

The Names of Hounds are very numerous but the following are common Beauty Bangor Bo man Bonny Bouncer Captain Chanter Countess Casar Dido Diver Dancer Daphne Dutehess Fancy Flippant Fiddler Gallant HecJor Juggler Jewel Joler Jolly Juno Kilbuck Lively Lady Madam Merryboy Mopfie Motley Nancy Plunder Pluto Rockwood Ringwood Rover Ranter Ranger Ruffler Soundwell Stately Thisbe Thunder Tattler Touchstone Traveller Trouncer Trusty Trier Venus Vulcan Violet Wanton Wonder Whisper Younker

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Don't forget, there's the theory that "Rover" originated as a short form of the name "Moreover", the name of Lazarus's dog in the Bible. You know, Luke 16:21, it says that when Lazarus was injured, "Moreover the dog came and licked his sores." :-) –  Jay Jan 4 '13 at 22:05
    
He was also in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale: "Let what is dear in Sicily be cheap : Next to thy self, and my young Rover, he's Apparent to my Heart." –  Hugo Jan 4 '13 at 22:12
    
@Jay Was that supposed to be "Moreover, the dog came and licked his sores", "Moreover, the dog, came and licked his sores", or "'R' over, the dog, came and licked his sores"? –  Kris Jan 6 '13 at 11:29
    
@Kris Exactly.. –  Jay Jan 8 '13 at 21:49
    
No mention of Rover in the 1576 Of Englishe dogges: the diuersities, the names, the natures, and the properties. –  Hugo May 12 '13 at 16:51
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I have heard that the name "Fido" for a dog became popular when President Abraham Lincoln named his dog Fido. While looking for a reference for that, I found this page: http://www.dog-names.org.uk/american-presidents-dogs.htm which mentions Lincoln's dog and also says that George Washington had a dog named Lady Rover. They give no more information, but that choice of name would seem to imply that Rover was an accepted name for a male dog by that time. This page http://www.boogiepets.com/pet.php?name=Rover says that the first movie with a dog here was called "Rescued by Rover", made in 1905. That's over 100 years after George Washington, of course.

I couldn't find anything that said who the first dog known to be named Fido or Rover was, but at least these references push the date back. Every now and then I am surprised to find that something I thought was hundreds of years old was really invented just a few decades ago. Apparently not so here. I wouldn't be surprised if the question is unanswerable: unless the first dog with one of those names was famous for some reason, it might not be recorded.

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Ahah! That is very interesting; Lincoln, the classicist. Me, I would be nervous about calling a dog a “Lady Rover”. There are two completely different words rover, where the second is related to reaving not to roaming. As a sea rover is a rover/reaver of the seas, I might worry about having a dog that were a reaver of women: a plunderer. // I know what you mean about the recentness thing, and was wondering whether this practice of naming dogs Rover isn’t another 19th-century invention even though we think of it as something coming to us out of time immemorial. –  tchrist Jan 4 '13 at 15:11
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I think "Lady Rover" is likely intended to mean "she-rover", as Washington also had a dog named Madame Moose. –  Cmillz Jan 4 '13 at 16:48
    
@Cmillz What I meant by my original statement was that for Washington to name a dog "Lady Rover", that sounds like the dog was female, and he was inventing a female version of the male name "Rover", implying that Rover was common enough as a male-dog name that he couldn't just call a female dog Rover without it sounding strange. I don't know the gender of the dog for a fact so I guess it's possible that this dog was male and Washington meant that it was roving around searching for ladies, but that just sounds rather unlikely to me. Washington was a rather proper gentleman. –  Jay Jan 4 '13 at 22:00
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