Why Do We Call Dogs Fido?

Picture of a dog wearing a bowtie

There have been a number of dogs whose names have become famous such as Lassie, Toto and Beethoven, and who could forget Marley from the film that made everyone cry in the cinema? The likelihood of finding a dog called Fido in the 21st century is incredibly low, and it would never make it to the top 100 names to call a dog, but it used to be popular for male dogs. In fact, it was so popular that it is now a generic shorthand for ‘dog’. “There’s a man walking with Fido by his side.” It is unlikely that is the dog’s name but anyone who hears ‘Fido’ knows what it means, but where did it come from?

The Origins

Dogs are often seen as being man’s best friend because they are loyal and faithful. Something that is so interesting about the name Fido is the linguistic origin. The University of Notre Dame Latin dictionary says that fido is defined as “to trust, believe, confide in”, with other books about the origin of names saying that it means “I am faithful.” The equivalent of calling a dog Fido is to call them “Trusty” or “Faithful” which is what they are. There is another reason why dogs are nicknamed Fido and it has to do with the beloved 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

President’s Best Friend

Abraham Lincoln is often seen as one of America’s most beloved presidents and has a lot of emotional appeal for citizens. After all, he is credited with preserving the Union during the Civil War that took place, as well as introducing emancipation proclamation that ended slavery in the country. He is charming since he had a very humble beginning and was an incredible spokesman for democracy, being just twenty-one years old when he moved to Illinois where he became a lawyer. It was often said that he had a distinctive personality, in which he had great humanity and humour, so it isn’t surprising that he was liked.

Once Lincoln took the bar examination and became a lawyer he opened a practice with partner, William Herndon. In his home there would often be cats or dogs that were pets for the children, but Herndon stated that they were therapeutic for Lincoln. Unfortunately, Lincoln suffered from depression, which often made it difficult for him to work sometimes. It was these animals that helped him to pull through the darkness and out of his despair to get back to work.

Herndon said, “If exhausted from severe and long-continued thought, he had to touch the earth again to renew his strength. When this weariness set in he would stop thought and get down with a little dog or kitten to recover; and when the recovery came he would push it aside to play with its own tail.”

In fact, Lincoln loved animals so much that he was an outspoken advocate for animal rights as well as human rights. Out of all the animals Lincoln owned, there was one that he had a special fondness for.

Fido and Lincoln

Their story started five years before Lincoln was nominated for his run as president, when he lived in Springfield, Illinois in 1855. Lincoln found Fido as a rescue, who was a medium sized dog that was said to resemble a yellow retriever and a shepherd pup, but his true ancestry is unknown. He had floppy ears and the two of them quickly became inseparable, with one not seen without the other. It was said to be a common sight to see Lincoln walking down the street with Fido walking behind him, a parcel tied with string around his neck. One of their regular stops was Billy’s Barbershop where Lincoln would get his haircut and Fido would wait patiently outside.

While Lincoln loved his dog, his wife Mary Todd wasn’t too fond of animals and disliked when Fido tracked dirt through the house, although it is something that all dog owners can relate to. After all, it isn’t easy to get dirt out of carpet. However, she tolerated him because she knew how much Lincoln loved him, even when Fido was allowed to jump on the furniture and pester people for food at the dining table. Before moving to the White House she said, “The public will not tolerate a dog, even the president’s dog, if that animal soils the White House carpets, or damages the heritage furniture in that mansion. Those items are public property and are held in trust by the President and should not be despoiled by any animal.”

To the White House

When the time came for them to move into the White House, Mary convinced Lincoln that it would be best to leave Fido behind. Lincoln decided to leave Fido with a local carpenter called John Eddy Roll until he returned from his term in the White House. The President left a number of rules for the new family and said that he should be allowed inside the house and fed titbits while at the dinner table, something nearly everyone is guilty of doing. Unsurprisingly, he two sons were upset, and so Lincoln decided to take photographs of Fido at a professional studio so the boys could always have him nearby, meaning that Fido was the first Presidential dog to have his photograph taken.

Soon after the photos of Fido were published in newspapers and Fido became the top name for people to call their dogs. After the assassination of President Lincoln, Fido was brought out by John Roll to meet the people who were grieving to offer them peace and that was exactly what they felt. While Fido met an untimely demise a year later after being killed by a homeless man by accident, Fido left a legacy behind him and the name alone if now a symbol for common dogs in the US.



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