Have you ever wondered how racehorses get their names? When you watch the coverage of races on TV, you’ve probably noticed several rather strange names included in the field of horses. Horses have been named for historical events, famous people, and even pop culture references. This article shares some classics like Nosoupforyou, a reference to Seinfeld. And Turducken, a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey made famous by John Madden, and the NFL Thanksgiving Day game coverage in the 90s. But how exactly do horses get these names? Here’s a little history.
Foal, Weanling, and Yearling Names
When a Thoroughbred is born, they typically are not officially named for some time. In the meantime, they are identified by their dam’s name, which is their mother, followed by their year of birth. Or you could say “sired by” and “out of” to describe their parentage while referencing their birth year. These young horses get nicknames or “barn” names along the way, but the Jockey Club must approve an official name. A horse can be named at any time, but most horses aimed for sales, either as a weanling, yearling, or two-year-old, are unnamed so their new owner can name them.
Characters and Syllables
The length of the horse’s name is also restricted. And it’s judged by two criteria: characters and syllables. There is a limit of 18 characters and seven syllables. If something is perfect for the horse but would be more than 18 characters with spaces, you can smoosh it all together and create a new single word, as long as it’s less than seven syllables.
No Repeat or Restricted Names
So how do you stop horses from being named Secretariat or Seabiscuit? Some names, like NFL Jersey numbers, are retired and can no longer be used. Others have a time limit. Broodmares hold exclusive rights to their names for 30 years or ten years after their death. For stallions, the numbers are 35 years or 15 years after their death. And no two horses can have the same name at the same time.
And it should go without saying, but horse names can’t be rude or inappropriate. There has certainly been a handful in history on the borderline, or that snuck in, but as a rule of thumb, it’s not a great idea.
Popular Naming Conventions
Here’s a fun fact. Owners can reserve names even if they don’t have a horse. So, if you think of the absolute perfect name, you don’t have to have the horse in hand to register it. Those moments of inspiration don’t have to be fleeting.
But there are popular naming conventions even if they’re not rules. Some horses use a combination of their sire and dam names. Others may use a variation on the theme of a name in their bloodline. But anything goes as long as it fits the rules and requirements. So, if you love popular culture, you can probably name a horse Mandalorian (but it’s already taken) or a favorite food, place, or book. The only requirement is if the horse will be named after a living person, permission must be obtained.
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