How Did “Fido” Become the Default Dog Name?

You hear the word "Fido" and immediately assume it's referring to a dog. But it's not actually a popular dog name—today, at least. Where did this now-generic dog shorthand term come from?

A young pug and french bulldog posing together for the camera, while being taken on a walk.MightyPics/Getty Images

If someone refers to a generic or hypothetical dog, they’ll probably give it one of a handful of names: “Rover,” “Spot,” “Lassie,” or, of course, the ever-popular “Fido.” There’s a website for locating lost dogs called “Fido Finder,” and another, “BringFido,” about traveling with dogs. You see the name of those sites and instantly know that they’re talking about dogs.

But why? Have you ever actually met someone with a dog named Fido? (I haven’t!) It doesn’t show up on the list of the top dog names of 2019. Today, dog names inspired by human names—like Bella, Riley, and Charlie—tend to be far more popular among dog owners than “doggish” names like Fido and Rover. But despite that, even today, “Fido” is all but synonymous with “dog.” So it must have had a heyday at one point, right?

It sure did. And like many of these trendy dog names that you’ll see today, it was inspired by a public figure—but not a human one. The dog name “Fido” surged in popularity because of not one but two high-profile pooches with that name.

A presidential pet

The first famous Fido belonged to none other than President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln loved animals, and before becoming president, he had several dogs and cats, according to Psychology Today—including a mixed-breed dog named Fido. The name comes from the Latin word fidus, meaning “trustworthy” or “faithful.” When Lincoln was elected in 1861, having dogs in the White House was not the fairly common, beloved practice it is today. Abe’s wife, Mary Todd, talked him out of bringing Fido to the White House because Fido was a rather rowdy pup and she wasn’t sure how he’d adjust to a different, potentially chaotic life in D.C.

So Fido never actually lived in the White House, but he’s still gone down in history as a famous presidential dog. At some point between 1861 and Lincoln’s funeral in 1865 (the exact date of the photo has come into historical question), a portraitist took a photo of Fido. In fact, Fido was the first-ever presidential pet to be photographed. The photo appeared in several newspapers, and by the time of Lincoln’s funeral—which Fido attended—the American people were enamored with the presidential pooch. And, sure enough, many of them began to name their dogs Fido, according to the American Kennel Club. Learn about some more of the most famous (and strangest!) pets to live in the White House.

A man’s best friend

Honest Abe’s Fido is the first and best-known pup to engender this naming trend, but there’s another well-known Fido that also deserves a mention for helping to secure the name’s place as synonymous with “dog.” In World War II-era Italy, a man named Carlo Soriano adopted a stray dog and named him Fido. The two developed a dog-human bond as strong as any, to the point where Fido would walk from his home to the bus stop every single day to greet Soriano when he got off the bus after work. Tragically, in 1943, Soriano was killed in a wartime air raid that hit the factory where he worked. Sure enough, though, Fido still continued to walk to the bus stop—every single day for a full 14 years—hoping that one day, Soriano would be there. Talk about loyalty!

People soon got wind of this bittersweet tale—several Italian media outlets told the story of Fido. Even Time magazine covered the story in 1957, helping it spread throughout the entire dog-loving world. Now, unequivocally, if there was ever a dog name emblematic of unwavering canine devotion, it was Fido. If that story tugged at your heartstrings, you need to see these sweet vintage photos of dogs being our best friends.

So these popular dogs named Fido—paired with the meaning of the name “Fido,” evoking the trusting, faithful nature so exemplary of dogs—solidified the name as a common, beloved choice. Of course, since then the name itself has slipped in popularity—but that’s surely in part because Fido is so synonymous with a generic dog name that actually choosing it as a name might seem like a lazy, uncreative choice. Next, find out how your favorite dog breeds got their names.

Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.