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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

What's In A Name?

The process of naming a horse is regulated by intricate rules. There are thousands of names registered every year and each one is checked by a team of administrators whose job it is to scrutinise each application as to its suitability to be seen, and heard, on a racecourse. Covering all bases for horses with an international moniker, foreign dictionaries and the internet (especially are used to check meanings. As with many of racing’s administrative functions, Weatherbys runs this naming department on behalf of the BHA.

To use a real person’s name, written permission must be sought – either from the person themselves or, if deceased, their family. There is a fifty-year cut off point after which no permission is required.

Vulgarity is not allowed. Norfolk And Chance, Ho Lee Fook, Ophelia Balls and Penny Tration have been rejected, because all breached the rule that states a name cannot be “suggestive…vulgar, obscene or insulting”. No names can be “offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups”. There is an elaborate and cringe-worthy list of banned names; most are too filthy to repeat – Chit Hot, Ima Goodlay and Harry Balls being the less crude ones.


Photo Credit: Horse Racing Ireland

Hence, owners get increasingly inventive. Big Tits raced in France in 2004 and no one envied the commentator when Hoof Hearted ran in South Africa. Closer to home, Two In The Pink ran here on the Flat and Lady Cecil trained Mary Hinge. Wear The Fox Hat was not to be said quickly by anyone but particularly not the race commentator, and no comment can be made about the French-bred Golden Shower. Another French-bred, Fukuto has run for David Bridgewater and Fergal O’Brien trained Wizard’s Sliabh, which translates into Wizard’s Mountain – perhaps both were saved by roundabout pronunciation.

Many owners name their horses by mixing up the sire’s and dam’s names. In 2001, the BHA sent out a press release when a filly was named Geespot. Her breeding was by Pursuit Of Love, out of My Discovery!

There are protected names to preserve legendary status, ensuring there will never be another Kauto Star or Frankel. Names must be unique and cannot be registered if “spelling…or pronunciation is identical or similar”. Also, to prevent horses with the same or similar names running together, no names can be repeated with a horse “whose year of foaling is within ten years” of the previous one. No more than seven syllables are permitted, otherwise commentators would have a nightmare. Eighteen characters are allowed, including spaces and apostrophes; no numbers or punctuation. This means some names have their spaces removed, as with Irish Grand National winner Shutthefrontdoor (who had a half-brother called Shutthebackdoor!) and Youlneverwalkalone, who also lost letters and punctuation to shoehorn his name into the allotted amount.


Allegedly, Coolmore assigns names to their vast number of two-year-olds based on a rating that Aidan O’Brien has presented to them earlier in the year. “If you see a bad horse with a good name, you’ll know there’s only one person to blame and that’s me!” said O’Brien. It may not be fool proof but Giant’s Causeway, Caravaggio, Galileo, Ruler Of The World, Yeats and Churchill portray there might be something in a name after all.

  • · Thank you for The Racing Post for Aidan O’Brien’s quote; April 14th 2019.

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