By Gary Koehler

The phone calls would come from out of the blue, more often in the spring than at any other time of year. The queries, originating from all points on the map, were always remarkably similar. "Hey, I just got a retriever," the caller would begin. "I don't know what to name him. Do you have any ideas for a really cool name for my dog? He's gonna be a duck hunter."

Ah, the name game. That was an annual exercise for some of us in the Ducks Unlimited communications department many years ago. There wereand still areobvious choices, such as Gunner and Hunter. Orion, which in Greek mythology means "great hunter," is another good option. But alas, there is no absolute answer. No magic wand. No stroke of genius.

The only suggestion that makes total sense is to take your time when selecting a name for your retriever puppy. Both you and your dog are going to be stuck with it for years to come. You might as well take this as an opportunity to truly personalize the naming process. Make it special. A bit of imagination and thought can go a long way. Your dog's name can tell a story.

For instance, one autumn more than 30 years ago, my sister, Lynn, set out to acquire an Irish setter. Her husband, Gene, was not so sure if this was a great idea, but eventually he relented. The dog was named Gene's Fall Folly, based perhaps on the breed's less than stellar reputation at the time. As it turned out, Folly wasn't anyone's folly. She became a wonderful dog and an ideal family pet.

In the early 1990s, when my wife and I brought home a German shorthair pointer puppy one Christmas Eve morning, we had little trouble coming up with a name. We lived near Chicago at the time, in a subdivision called Bright Oaks, so the pup was named St. Nicholas of Bright Oaks. He answered to "Nick," and our three young children adored him. In fact, six months after we got him, they would have been hard-pressed to list any of the other gifts they had received that Christmas.

Years later, after Nick had passed, we got an eight-week-old Chesapeake Bay retriever. By then we were living in Memphis and had become avid fans of the University of Tennessee women's basketball program. Our pup was soon listed in the American Kennel Club registry as Our Lady Vol Kayla. The name fit her perfectly, as Kayla grew up to be smart, tough, and athletic.

Some canine experts recommend using short, snappy names for hunting dogs. The idea is that it's much easier to give clear, concise commands in the field to a dog name Zeke than it is to one named Ezekiel Par Excellence. Following that logic, Lad is also a much better retriever moniker than Ladislaus the Marsh Wizard.

Similarly, many authorities advise against tagging a duck dog with a name that sounds like an in-the-field command. Fletch is way too close to "fetch," for instance. And while Brack is a cool name for a hunting dog, it could easily be confused with the casting command "back." Along those same lines, if you have a hunting partner named Larry, you might want to think twice about naming your dog Harry. It's also a good idea to stay away from all names that might be associated with a reprimand or form of punishment.

There are no set parameters for naming your retriever. Go with what works best for you and your family. An imaginative choice will ultimately mean much more than some random, pedestrian moniker. Have some fun with this project. It will only be as tough as you make it.

Sometimes the simplest names will seem the most apt and inspired. This is true of the names that veteran trainer Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels gave to Ducks Unlimited's official mascots. The first Labrador retriever to hold the title of DU Dog was Drake, while the second and current Lab in that position is Deke. What better names for avid duck dogs?

During his long and distinguished career with DU magazine, the late Gary Koehler was among our most popular and prolific contributors. We are honored to share this previously unpublished column with our readers.