Posted: October 30, 2014, 2:30 p.m. EDT
Pop quiz! What popular small mammal pet originates in Mongolia and has the scientific name Meriones unguiculatus, which translates to "little clawed warrior”? Hint: we’re talking about a member of the order Rodentia who is a smidge bigger than a mouse and has a long tail, complete with a tuft of fur at the end. Give up? That little warrior is none other than the cute, diminutive gerbil.
While there are other gerbil varieties — such as the pygmy gerbil, Przewalski’s gerbil and pouched gerbil — the Mongolian gerbil is the one most commonly available as a pet. You won’t, however, see gerbils for sale in every state. For instance, California and Hawaii ban them as pets. Bans are often the result of state agricultural and environmental officials having concerns that pet gerbils who are released or escape could establish wild colonies and harm native wildlife or crops. If you’re considering a gerbil for a pet, check that they are legal to own in your area.
Gerbil Name Inspirations
A quick a look at the gerbil profiles on SmallAnimalChannel.com tells us that gerbil names run the gamut of inspirations. Some are based on their smallness, such a Pip, Pipsqueak, Rain Drop, Tyke, Pee Wee and Little Buddy. Other names appear to be based on gerbils’ habits, especially their high energy levels, with names like Nibbles, Jumper, Dash, Dynamite, Speedy, Chase, Zippy and Spaz. Active names are all apropos because gerbils can be very active, especially at night — which may also explain names like Shadow, Twilight, Midnight and Night Flower.
From the look of things, many gerbil owners are sweet on their pets, too. Your gerbil is in good company if he or she goes by names like Oreo, Cocoa, Caramel, Latte, Marshmallow, Maple, Fudge, Brownie, Cool Whip, Waffle, Snickerdoodle, Cupcakes, Pancakes, Buttercup, Milkshake, Chocolate, Vanilla, Mocha.
Gerbil coat colors include black, white, cream, brown, tan and numerous combinations of these ice cream and pastry colors, so these delicious names seem like a natural fit. Of course, while these gerbils have sweet-sounding names, they should never actually eat the sweets of their namesakes, as these types of confections would wreak havoc on their health.
There is also a sprinkling of names on SmallAnimalChannel’s profile list that highlight the gerbil’s friendly and sociable side — Cuddles, Snuggles, Huggie, Bear Hug and Sweet Angel. And here’s a name that perfectly captures the gerbil’s curious nature — Sherlock!
© Courtesy Peg Kishel
Gerbils are available in a variety of coat colors, which can be an inspiration for a name.
Show Me The Gerbil!
Dog and cat shows highlight the various breeds, but did you know that there are gerbil shows, too? Each year, the American Gerbil Society hosts four gerbil shows where "American Gerbil Society-trained judges evaluate gerbils for conformation, body type, build, overall health, color and temperament.” Just like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, gerbils compete for the Best In Show, and there is also a Best Of Opposite Sex award. If you can’t bring your gerbil to a show, or want to test the show-circuit waters, you can compete in the Virtual Show by submitting a photo of your gerbil.
Some seasoned gerbil-show hobbyists breed gerbils to bring out certain qualities, and having a naming system can help track bloodlines. Libby Hanna of the Brighton, Massachusetts-based Shawsheen River Gerbils, which serves as an official breed rescue to area humane societies and assists pet owners who find themselves with gerbils they cannot keep, creates names by borrowing letters from existing ones. "For my show gerbils, I try to make an anagram using the letters of the parents' names,” Hanna said.
"For instance, I had a female gerbil named Cameo and a male named Rodeo, so I named one of their sons Carlos — C, A, R and O from the parents, the L and S were added.”
As for the gerbils that come in from other rescues or sources, Hanna often goes with spontaneity. "Sometimes I just walk by the tank one day, and the name pops into my head — it's almost like they told me their names!”
Need more name ideas? While gerbils might not be as popular a pet for movie roles as cats and dogs, you might be happy to learn that a Canadian-based children’s book publishing company called Gerbil Meets Mouse offers a book series inspired by the author’s real-life gerbils, Melvin, Mocha and Petri. The company states its focus as "publishing stories featuring gerbils as the prominent characters, and signature photography of live gerbils for illustrations.”
Another children’s book series features a gerbil named Obi, named after the famous Jedi warrior, who goes on adventures outside his cage. Author M.C. Delaney has written three books so far about Obi.
And the cartoon strip Urban Gerbils stars the gerbils Nutty and Russy, who have very different outlooks on life. The strip is written by Dan Bowden, a London-based cartoonist and illustrator.
There you have it — Melvin, Mocha, Petri, Obi, Nutty and Russy … a few more names to add to the list!
Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
Life With Your First Gerbil
Gerbils At Play In And Out Of The Cage
Train Your Gerbils To Do Tricks
See questions and answers about gerbil behavior
See questions and answers about gerbil health