You can call your horse anything you want. However, if you want to register your horse (necessary for breeding papers, many competitions, etc.), your horse's official name must conform to a set of rules. In general, the rules for official horse names are:
- Unique. Obviously it can be confusing to have multiple horses by the same name. Consequently, for popular names, one often adds a suffix or prefix to the official name in order to make it unique. See below for tips and guidance. In some cases this rule will be raised (e.g. if the horse which previously had the name is now dead and has no notable accomplisments, you may be allowed to reuse the name for your horse).
- Inoffensive. Names which are considered potentially offensive will be rejected. Examples are words which are obscene, sexual or racial.
- Length. There is a maximum length for names (e.g. the American quarter-horse registery specifies a maximum of 20 characters).
- Characters. The name can include any standard letter (e.g. A to Z) but normally cannot include special characters or punctuation (e.g. no exclamation marks).
Although the above is a general guideline which applies to most major breeds, the detailed rules depend on the specific breed (e.g. breed registery) and can vary depending on country (e.g. for a given breed, the rules for registering in America may be somewhat different than in individual European countries). When you submit the application to register your horse, the breed registery will check that the name your submit conforms to the rules. To save trouble (and possibly additional application fees), you may wish to check the rules for your breed before submiting the registration application.
Although a breed may have national registeries in many different county, for many breeds there is a country which is considered the main registery for that breed. For example, the American registery is considered the main registery for the Appaloosa breed and the Spanish registery is considered the main registery for the Andalusian breed. If you live in a country other than the main country for your horse's breed, you may want to register the horse in both your home country (so you can participate in local and national competitions) and also in the registery associated with the main country for the breed (which may be important for international competitions and will also give your horse greater recognition if used for breeding, with possibly a better price for any offspring).
Whether this is worth the extra time and registration costs depends on what you are using the horse for. If it is an ordinary horse which is used only for personal pleasure, then you likely don't need to do a double registration. However, if you intend to breed or complete at a high level, then double registration may be useful. In such a case, you should check that whatever name you choose is acceptable to both national registeries before submitting a registration application to either.
Making a Horse Name Unique
After a horse name is choosen, owners often add something to the end (or begining) to make it unique. For example, if you want to call your horse 'Thunder' but this name is already taken, you may call it 'Thunder son of ...' or you might call it 'Mighty Thunder'. In the case of breeders registering horses, they often add the name of their breed stable (e.g. 'Thunder Merrywell-Breeders'). See 'References' below for guidance on how to make a name unique.
The following references are provided for further information:
- Sample Horse Names. Thousands of example horse names (sorted alphabetically). Useful if you are looking for ideas
- Horse Names and Meanings. More example horse names, including names in other languages such as Arabic (of specialy interest if your horse is an Arab), Spanish and Greek. For many of the names (in particular, for other languages), the meaning of the name is provided (e.g. Dalia is Arabic for 'gentle').
- Unique Horse Names. The second half of this article describes in detail how to take a common horse name and make it unique.
- Arabic Horse Names. Arabic names and their meanings. Of special interest to owners of Arab breed horses.
- Icelandic Horse Names. Of special interest to owners of Icelandic horses.
- Renaming Abused Horses. Explanation of why you shoud change the name of a horse if it has been abused.
Individual Breed and National Rules
The above is a general guide to choosing and/or registering a name for a horse. Please note that the detailed rules depend on both the breed and the country in which you are registering. If you have purchased your horse from a professional (e.g. a breeder), the seller should be able to give you the contact details for the breed registery for your horse so that you can register (or change, should you wish) the horse's official name. As an example of the detailed rules, following are the names which are unacceptable for Thoroughbred horses registered in USA:
- 1. Names consisting of more than 18 letters (spaces and punctuation marks count as letters);
- 2. Names consisting entirely of initials such as C.O.D., F.O.B., etc.;
- 3. Names ending in "filly," "colt," "stud," "mare," "stallion," or any similar horse-related term;
- 4. Names consisting entirely of numbers. Numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out;
- 5. Names ending with a numerical designation such as "2nd" or "3rd," whether or not such a designation is spelled out;
- 6. Names of living persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club;
- 7. Names of persons no longer living unless approval is granted by The Jockey Club based upon a satisfactory written explanation submitted to the Registrar;
- 8. Names of racetracks or graded stakes races;
- 9. Names clearly having commercial, artistic or creative significance;
- 10. Names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups;
- 11. Names that appear to be designed to harass, humiliate or disparage a specific individual, group of individuals or entity;
- 12. Names that are currently active either in racing or breeding (see Rule6(E));
- 13. Names of winners in the past 25 years of grade one stakes races;
- 14. Permanent names. The list of criteria to establish a permanent name is as follows:
- a. Horses in racing's Hall of Fame;
- b. Horses that have been voted Horse of the Year;
- c. Horses that have won an Eclipse Award;
- d. Horses that have won a Sovereign Award (Canadian Champions);
- e. Annual leading sire and broodmare sire by progeny earnings;
- f. Cumulative money winners of $2 million or more;
- g. Horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, The Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Breeders' Cup Classic or the Breeders' Cup Turf; and
- h. Horses included in the International List of Protected Names.
- 15. Names similar in spelling or pronunciation to the classes of names listed in Rule 6(F) 6 - 14 above.