Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Whykickamoocow: The secret of silly horse names

By Sheena McKenzie, CNN
updated 9:18 AM EST, Wed November 14, 2012
"Frankel was a cracking name -- it jumped out of the microphone," says racing commentator Cornelius Lysaught. The superstar colt, who recently retired after an unblemished 14-win career, scooped the main prize at the 2012 UK Horse of the Year awards. "Frankel was a cracking name -- it jumped out of the microphone," says racing commentator Cornelius Lysaught. The superstar colt, who recently retired after an unblemished 14-win career, scooped the main prize at the 2012 UK Horse of the Year awards.
HIDE CAPTION
Fabulous Frankel
The people's horse
Forever Phar Lap
Myth of Camelot
Wordsmith
Setting the pace
You bet
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Silly horse names are a traditional part of the horse racing experience
  • But naming a thoroughbred is also fine art subject to strict international rules
  • A horse's name can influence betting among inexperienced punters
  • Important horse names, such as Frankel, are put on a protected register

Editor's note:

(CNN) -- Say these names as fast as you can: Hoof Hearted, Whykickamoocow, Oh no it's my mother-in-law, Maythehorsebewithyou.

It's not a playground tongue twister, but a legitimate list of horse names, announced at speed by racing commentators adept at wrapping their lips around some of the most difficult -- and ridiculous -- titles on the planet.

Silly horse names are as much a part of the racing experience as ladies in hats or laying a bet. But naming a thoroughbred is also a fine art subject to strict international regulations, with the power to both sway punters and shape the horse's legacy.

"If you look at the big races, there are not many horses who win them without good names," British racing commentator Cornelius Lysaght said.

Singapore attracts top horse trainers
What do winners eat for lunch?
First lady of Australian horse racing

"Frankel (the superstar colt who recently retired after an unblemished 14-win career) was a cracking name. It was very distinctive, strong and easy to pronounce -- it absolutely jumped out of the microphone.

"Added to that was the fairytale story of trainer Sir Henry Cecil naming him after trainer Bobby Frankel, who died from cancer. It created a certain mystique around the horse."

So why are many horse names downright weird? It's partly a way of getting around rules dictating that no professional thoroughbreds have the same name. That includes names which are spelled differently, but phonetically sound the same.

Read: Breakfast of champions - What's in the nosebag?

Names can be no longer than 18 characters, with up to seven syllables.

Each name is also protected for 20 years, and up to 35 years if the horse goes to stud after retiring.

Then there's the holy grail of names considered so important, they can never be used again.

When people say, "There'll never be another Frankel," they aren't wrong. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities has put the champion horse on its eternally protected list, alongside such greats as Australian gelding Phar Lap and U.S. stallion Seabiscuit.

One loophole does allow horses from different countries to have the same name -- provided they include the nation's prefix at the end.

Read: Melbourne Cup memories -- The legs that stopped a nation

And if you want to name your horse after a person or company, you've got to have their permission. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously turned down a request by the late Clement Freud -- a former celebrity chef, politician and grandson of the famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud -- to name his horse after her. He called it Weareagrandmother instead.

Artist Michael Kirkbride's painting, "Armchair Ride," was inspired by a poem about Frankel demolishing the field in last year's 2000 Guineas race. Artist Michael Kirkbride's painting, "Armchair Ride," was inspired by a poem about Frankel demolishing the field in last year's 2000 Guineas race.
Fabulous Frankel
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
My muse: A race horse called Frankel My muse: A race horse called Frankel
British model Jean Shrimpton caused a huge uproar after arrving at the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1965 wearing a minidress five inches above the knees, with no stockings, gloves or hat.
British model Jean Shrimpton caused a huge uproar after arrving at the Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1965 wearing a minidress five inches above the knees, with no stockings, gloves or hat.
THAT dress
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
The legs that stopped a nation The legs that stopped a nation
British colt Frankel powers home to take the Champion Stakes at Ascot -- his 14th consecutive win. British colt Frankel powers home to take the Champion Stakes at Ascot -- his 14th consecutive win.
Super stud
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
The \'Brangelina\' of horse racing? The 'Brangelina' of horse racing?

There's also the minefield of names deemed too offensive for the track. Among the risque suggestions which failed to get the seal of approval from the British Horse Racing Authority's administrative arm, Weatherbys, are: Chit Hot, Harry Balzitch, Pee Ness and Hucking Fell.

The names of terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and IRA have also been turned away, though Weatherbys racing director Paull Khan admitted suspect names had "slipped through the net" in the past.

"You've also got to take cultural differences into account. In Britain, people would generally be quite flattered to have a horse named after them, but in France it would more likely be seen as an insult," he said.

Read: 'Brangelina' dreams over - The world's most sought-after gigolo

BBC commentator Lysaght has had to call some tongue-twisting horse names in a career spanning more than 30 years.

"A few complicated names in a tight finish can get a bit frightening," he said

"If a few of the more difficult names go down in a race, I think deep down the commentator is thinking, 'Thank God that one's not involved anymore.' "

Thankfully for Lysaght, the most prolific winners in recent years have had sharp, easily pronounceable names -- think Frankel or Australian supermare Black Caviar.

"There's also a certain trend now for short, real words," he said. "The Queen is renowned for naming her horses sensible, quite cleverly constructed words -- like Sea Shanty."

Read: A weighty issue -- Hidden world of jockey heaving bowls

"French chic" has become synonymous with the country's powerhouse fashion labels, including Channel, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent. "French chic" has become synonymous with the country's powerhouse fashion labels, including Channel, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent.
French fashion
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
Glitz and glamour of the Arc Glitz and glamour of the Arc
 Andrasch Starke celebrates on Danedream after winning the 2011 Prix De L´Arc De Triomphe at Longchamps. Andrasch Starke celebrates on Danedream after winning the 2011 Prix De L´Arc De Triomphe at Longchamps.
Danedream's biggest triumph
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
>
>>
Danedream: Germany\'s Seabiscuit Danedream: Germany's Seabiscuit
Camelot, the horse with the mythical name, has so far lived up to his billing, winning the Epsom Derby and 2,000 Guineas. Will he win a fairytale Triple Crown at the St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday? Camelot, the horse with the mythical name, has so far lived up to his billing, winning the Epsom Derby and 2,000 Guineas. Will he win a fairytale Triple Crown at the St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday?
Hat-trick for Camelot?
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
Will Camelot rise again? Will Camelot rise again?

But can a horse's name affect its performance? Is it possible to have a champion horse called Loser? Lysaght believes a horse's name can be self-prophesying -- to an extent.

"Camelot's owners reserved the name 10 years ago -- they thought it was a marvelous name but there was no horse that came up to scratch," Lysaght said.

"They wanted to wait and attach it to a really great horse who would live up to the mythical title. As it turned out, he didn't quite get there in the end."

British colt Camelot came close to fulfilling his promise, winning this year's 2,000 Guineas and Epsom Derby but failing to complete the English Triple Crown after finishing second at the St. Leger Stakes.

Read: Tall, dark and handsome muse...is a horse

It's difficult to pinpoint a link between names and performance. But that still hasn't stopped horse names having an effect on punters' betting habits.

"I think it holds the most sway at something like the Grand National in Britain, where you've got a large proportion of inexpert betters," Khan said.

"You'll have lots of small bets on appealing names -- things that have a human element people can associate with or are cleverly constructed."

As for the horse's legacy, Khan puts it down to performance.

"I think the degree people feel attached to certain names is dependent on the performance of the horse -- not the other way around," he said.

So if Khan had a horse, what would he name it? "Worksop Bellyflop. It's a name that just jumped out at me when I gave a talk in Worksop, in the East Midlands, once."

It's no Camelot. But then, as Shakespeare's Juliet famously said: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
As a jockey, Philip Blacker lived for the thrills and spills of horse racing. As a sculptor, his work captures the horror of World War I.
updated 11:12 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ever thought zebras couldn't be tamed? Think again. Gary Witheford has a remarkable way with wild animals -- which he proved after a pub boast.
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu October 9, 2014
The internet went wild for so-called "horse yoga" -- but there was something deeper going on that reconnects humans with the animal world.
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
The going is always soft and the only permanent building is a toilet block. It's the antithesis to the pomp of Royal Ascot ... welcome to Irish beach racing.
updated 7:07 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Each August, over a thousand tents and hundreds of horses converge on Little Big Horn River in Montana for the Crow Fair and Rodeo.
updated 5:57 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Show me the money! Hollywood star Tom Cruise was a big hit when he visited the Glorious Goodwood festival.
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Little-known outside the tribes of the Rocky Mountains in the American northwest, Indian Relay is a "magical" horse-racing relay.
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Now in his 50s, one of the world's most successful jockeys explains why he gave up acting to return to the sport that nearly crippled him.
Winning Post's Francesca Cumani is impressed by the all-round multitasking skills of Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien.
updated 4:53 AM EDT, Sat June 7, 2014
 An infrared camera was used to create this image.) A horse and exercise rider head to the main track for morning training at Belmont Park on June 4, 2014 in Elmont, New York.
More people have walked on the moon than have won the fabled Triple Crown of U.S. horse racing. California Chrome is seeking to square that score.
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
A long history of controversy made him the "enfant terrible" of horse racing, but veteran jockey Kieren Fallon is looking for redemption.
updated 7:31 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Joel Rosario on Animal Kingdom competes to win the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, at Meydan race track in Dubai on March 30, 2013. The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner (11/2), trained by American Graham Motion and ridden by Rosario, beat home English raider Red Cadeaux by two lengths while another English-trained runner Planteur was third.
With owners ranging from presidents to sheikhs and queens, horse racing is known as the "Sport of Kings" for good reason.
ADVERTISEMENT