For the Thoroughbred horse racing community, naming a foal is a big deal. And the American Jockey Club have a fairly hefty set of rules and regulations. In the U.S., the registrar has to oversee the registration of approximately 37,000 horses per year. And ensure there are no repeats – and with around 450,000 active names – that’s not easy. Names can be reused, but only after certain criteria are met. According to the Jockey Club website “Names of horses over ten years old may be eligible for use if they…have not been used during the preceding five years either for breeding or racing. Names of horses that were never used for breeding or racing may be available for use five years from the date of their death as reported.”
There are other specifics, too, such as a limit of 18 characters. “And there are some special permissions that you have to get; for example, if you wanted to name a horse after a person, you would need to seek written permission from that person,” Rick Bailey, registrar of the Jockey Club explained during an interview on NPR. “One of the best ones that I remember in my 17 years here at the Jockey Club is, several years back, we had a filly named Barbara Bush when Mrs. Bush was still first lady at the time. We received a letter of permission on White House letterhead. So that was pretty exciting.”
There have been some hilarious names that have passed Bailey’s authority including Fiftyshadesofhay and Doremifasollatido to name but two. (Watch the video of the creative race call for the latter here.)
Of course, one of the most famous racehorses of this century is Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. His name is also equally famous for being misspelled. The correct spelling is Pharaoh, but a bit of mistyping on the part of Justin Zayat, the son of owner Ahm, was proven ultimately to blame. Back when the colt was born, the younger Zayat ran a social media foal-naming contest. At first when the misspelling came to light he blamed the contestant. The winner refuted Zayat’s claim, however, forcing him to admit guilt. “I didn’t happen to realize at the time that it was misspelled … most English teachers in the world now are unhappy with me, but I’ll live with that.”
As to why The Jockey Club didn’t “catch” the error? The president issued a statement at the time of the “controversy,” that read, “The name request for the 2012 colt American Pharoah was submitted electronically on January 25, 2014, through The Jockey Club’s interactive registration site. Since the name met all of the criteria for naming and was available, it was granted exactly as it was spelled on the digital name application.”
Thoroughbreds aren’t the only race horses that play the name game. Take winning Quarter Horse racer Bofa Deez Nuts, especially when you consider he was a gelding! In fact, the whole QH world is chock full of inventive names like None of Your Business, SuddenFriedChikin, Spank My Wranglers and Broke My Zipper.
According to the American Quarter Horse Association you can name your foal whatever you like as long as it falls within their rules. Like other registries, the name is limited to a certain number of characters, no punctuation, and no celebrity knock-offs without written permission. But unlike many other sport horse registries, you do not have to use the pedigree of the foal in the name.
As you might expect from the Europeans, the Germans in particular, the naming of foals is a highly organized and structured practice and a lot less fun than the racehorse or QH people. Each breed registry has their own rules, but they are fairly rigid and there is zero flexibility.
Oldenburg: If you’ve got a cute colt, then his name must begin with the first letter of the sire’s name. If you’ve got a feisty filly, it gets slightly more complicated. Do you intend your filly to be a broodmare only? If so, then her name must start with the first letter of the dam’s name. If your filly is destined for the show ring you can choose the first letter of either the sire or the dam.
Hanoverian: Here both fillies and colts must bear a name that begins with the first initial of the sire. But, names are restricted to twenty characters including letters, punctuation marks and numerals. And if you’ve got an approved stallion in your barn, his name can only be given to a full brother, but must have the suffix, II, III or IV.
KWPN (Dutch Warmblood): The Dutch use a naming system that designates a specific letter to a year. This way, you can more easily know when a horse was born. The letters Q, X & Y are not used (although we think they would produce some original names). And like the Germans, no name can exceed 20 characters or spaces and must begin with the designated letter for that year.
Westphalian: All foals must use the first letter of the sire.
So if you’re a breeder or the owner of a new foal, congratulations – now get creative!