Why Are Horse Names So Weird? Rules & Reasons This Happens

Why are horse names so weird? You may have asked yourself this while watching the 2022 Kentucky Derby, wondering who called a horse Tiz the Bomb, or Smile Happy.

The Jockey Club has to consider and approve 60,000 horse names per year. (1)

Read on, and you’ll find out why racehorses have weird names.

Key Takeaways

  • All racehorse names have to be approved by their country’s racing organization.
  • Naming racehorses is subject to a strict set of rules.
  • Racehorse owners have many reasons for choosing names.

Check out names for mares and fillies you’re looking specifically for female name ideas.

How & Why Do Race Horses Get Their Odd Names

Racehorse names must be approved by the country’s racing organization.

For example, if they are in the United States, it’s the Jockey Club. If they are in Great Britain or Ireland, it’s Weatherby’s.

All racing organizations have a list of similar rules in order to make sure horse names are original. No two living thoroughbred racehorses can have the same name or even similar-sounding names that could confuse buyers or bettors. Check out these worst racehorse names so you will be familiar with not naming your racehorse similar to them.

The owner, trainer, or breeder submits a list of proposed names to their country’s racing organization by February 1st of the horse’s two-year-old year.

Weatherby’s has about 250,000 names on their current registrar (2). The Jockey Club has about 450,000 active names.

To find a unique name, owners and trainers have to get creative. That’s why some of the names are so weird.

 Want to know if horses recognize their names? Check out do horses know their owners.

What’s In a Name?

Researchers found that names influence betting behavior, with fast-sounding racehorses receiving more winning probabilities but, in fact returning worse outcomes for bettors (3).

That tells us that the name doesn’t have much to do with the horse’s performance. There are, however, many other factors that go into the naming of a racehorse.

Frequently, owners include the horse’s pedigree in a straightforward way. The famous Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, for instance, was by What a Pleasure out of Fool-me-not (4).

Names frequently take words from the sire or dam’s names, or they allude to them thematically.

For example, Secretariat’s dam, Somethingroyal, was by the stallion Princequillo. Horses with “Prince” in their name go back four generations on her pedigree (5).

The 2015 Triple Crown Winner American Pharaoh was by Pioneer of the Nile, sticking with the Egyptian theme. Some owners aim for a more subtle pun, playing off one or both parents’ names.

Jan Gardner, the racing manager of Godolphin Racing, explains, “We have African Story, for instance. He’s out of Blixen. Karen Blixen wrote, ‘Out of Africa.’ Hence African Story.”

Similarly, Tiz the Law, a 3-year old colt who ran in the 2022 Belmont Stakes, was by the stallion Constitution and out of the mare Tizfizz (6).

Private Account, a Grade One stakes winner, was out of a mare called Numbered Account, whose sire was Buckpasser. Private Account has sired horses with names like Inside Information, Swiss Affair, and Unaccounted For.

Not every racehorse has a name related to its pedigree. Some owners seek out names that sound simple, powerful, and resonant.

They want something meaningful to the horse’s connections, to bettors, or that will just sound great as the horse gallops down to the wire.

Who can forget iconic names (and horses) like Secretariat, Red Rum, Zenyatta, or Stradivarius?

If the horse becomes an influential breeding stallion, such as Nasrullah or Bold Ruler, their name will live forever on hundreds of pedigrees.

Though the rules are strict, some owners name their horses after people. The great racehorse colt Frankel, for instance, was named after the trainer Bobby Frankel, who died of cancer in 2009.

For every horse with a classy, dignified name, there are plenty of goofy ones on tracks all over the world. Horse owners try to be clever and funny while sticking to the racing organization rules.

Thewifedoesntknow’s owners obviously had a bit of fun. So did the owners of Panty Raid, Bodacious Tatas, ARRRRR, and Shouldvebeenaring.

The gray colt Shouldvebeenaring had a successful season this year at British two-year-old flat racing, winning over £165,000, so maybe he’s made up for the ring (7).

CHECK: Unusual Horse Names

Naming Rules For Thoroughbred Horse

The Jockey Club’s naming rules are extensive and a little complicated. When you read them, you’ll see why racehorse owners often come up with bizarre ones.

Below are a few examples that help answer the question ‘how do racehorses get their names.’ The whole list is available on the Jockey Club’s website. (8).

  • Names cannot be more than eighteen characters. That’s why Pioneerof the Nile’s name is spelled the way it is.
  • Names can’t end with a numerical designation. Don’t expect to see Secretariat II.
  • You can’t name your horse after a living person unless the Jockey Club has their written permission.
  • You can’t name your horse after a dead person, either, unless the Jockey Club approves based on a satisfactory written explanation.
  • You can’t name your horse anything that the registrar judges “in poor taste” or “suggests a vulgar and obscene meaning.”

Not that people don’t try to sneak lewd names past the Jockey Club or Weatherby’s. Sometimes, they succeed.

You have to say, Wear the Fox Hat, Finmental, Hoof Hearted, and Noble Locks a few times fast to get it. Clearly, the racing authorities didn’t when they approved of the names.

But it’s pretty obvious (and funny) when shouted by a racing announcer, like in this video of Hoof Hearted.

  • You can’t call your horse anything deemed offensive, inflammatory, or disparaging.
  • Not only are names of active racehorses prohibited, but so are the names of any Grade One stakes winner in the last 25 years.
  • If a horse has won notable graded stakes races, including the Kentucky Derby, Belmont, Preakness, or Breeders Cup Classic, their name is forever taken out of circulation.

The same holds true for horses who have won an Eclipse Award or Horse of the Year.

  • The International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities keeps a list of Protected Names, generally horses with highly successful racing and breeding careers (9).

No thoroughbred racehorse anywhere in the world can take a name from that list.

Naming Rules For Quarter Horses

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) has much simpler rules for naming horses (10). They are straightforward and easy to read, so I’ve included them verbatim here:

  • “You can choose a name you like so long as it meets AQHA naming rules and policies. Although many people prefer to, you are not required to name your AQHA foal according to pedigree.
  • The name cannot be longer than 20 characters.
  • Arabic numerals (1234…and so on) are permitted at the end of a name, so long as there is a space between the name and number placed on the end.
  • Punctuation marks are not permitted (so if you are looking at DASHS DIGIT, there is no apostrophe in the word ‘dashs’ because it is not allowed per AQHA rules).
  • Keep the name clean and in good taste. (We do attempt to red flag anything that seems inappropriate.)
  • You must have written permission from John Wayne to name your horse John Wayne. (The same goes for every celebrity).” (10)

However, even with less strict rules, you still might scratch your head and ask why are horse names so weird when you hear some of them!

11 Weird Names And Great Names For Racehorses

We have covered some of the best racehorse names and some of the weirdest.

horse racing

I’ve touched on some of these horses already, but here are some more of my favorites:

1. Man O’War – Won 9 out of 10 starts, then had a long and successful breeding career. He is a legendary famous horse!

2. Native Dancer – A fantastic racehorse in his own right, winning 21 out of 22 races, but probably the most influential sire in the history of the modern thoroughbred. Most thoroughbreds have him somewhere in their pedigree.

3. Affirmed and Alydar -Two rival colts for the Triple Crown in 1978. Affirmed won all three races, with Alydar as the runner-up.

4. Black Caviar – One of the greatest racing mares, Australian-bred and winning over £4 million. She was undefeated in 25 races.

5. Sea the Stars – Won the 2009 Epsom Derby and went on to sire multiple stakes winners including Harzand, the 2016 Epsom Derby winner.

Not every horse gets a grandiose name like Sea the Stars. I find these ones to be some of the funniest names for horses.

1. Ha Ha Ha – He was eventually eliminated, much to the relief of racing commentators.

2. Sofa Can Fast – Say it fast and be impressed that it snuck by the racing authorities.

3. ARRRRR – What racing commentator can’t resist the chance to sound like a pirate?

4. Thewifeknowsevrything and Thewifedoesn’tknow – Watch these two fillies battling it out in this race.

5. Geespot – This mare was out of My Discovery and by Pursuit of Love. You can see her owners’ logic.

6. Whykickamoocow – His funny name didn’t help his racing career. He had only six starts, coming third once, and his winnings amounted to $1800.

Check out more funny names for horses.


1. How long can a horse’s name be?

Thoroughbred names can be up to 18 characters, and Quarter Horse names can be up to 20 characters.

2. Can two horses have the same name?

No two active racehorses can have the same name. Famous racing horse names are protected indefinitely.
If they’ve had modest careers, their names get re-released into circulation 5 years after their last race. If they become a broodmare or a breeding stallion, the name is protected for 15 years.


Racehorses have weird names for many reasons. The naming of racehorses is an art, and every owner or trainer has some reasoning behind the name.

Some owners, hopeful that their yearling will become a superstar, give them a name as powerful and classy as any of the greatest racehorses.

Many owners acknowledge their horses’ pedigree, either outright or with clever wordplay.

Others try to be clever, funny, or entertaining.

Whatever the stories behind the names, the list of starters in any race always makes the Racing Form sound like poetry. I hope this has helped answer your question, ‘why are horse names so weird.’

equestrian riding a racing horse


  • 1. published RM. Why Do Kentucky Derby Horses Have Such Crazy Names? [Internet]. livescience.com. 2011 [cited 2022 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/14020-kentucky-derby-weird-horse-names.html
  • 2. Weatherbys services to the British horseracing industry and passports for horse owners [Internet]. www.weatherbys.co.uk. [cited 2022 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.weatherbys.co.uk/racing/racing-services/horse-names-and-racing-colours
  • 3. Merz O, Flepp R, Franck E. Sonic Thunder vs. Brian the Snail: Are people affected by uninformative racehorse names? Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics. 2021;93:101724.
  • 4. Foolish Pleasure Horse Pedigree [Internet]. www.pedigreequery.com. [cited 2022 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.pedigreequery.com/foolish+pleasure
  • 5. Secretariat Horse Pedigree [Internet]. www.pedigreequery.com. [cited 2022 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.pedigreequery.com/secretariat
  • 6. Tiz The Law Horse Pedigree [Internet]. www.pedigreequery.com. [cited 2022 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.pedigreequery.com/tiz+the+law
  • 7. Shouldvebeenaring | Race Record & Form | Racing Post [Internet]. www.racingpost.com. [cited 2022 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.racingpost.com/profile/horse/4277868/shouldvebeenaring/form
  • 8. Jockey Club Interactive Registration [Internet]. www.registry.jockeyclub.com. Available from: https://www.registry.jockeyclub.com/registry.cfm?page=tjcRuleBook#six
  • 9. INTERNATIONAL LIST OF PROTECTED NAMES [Internet]. Available from: https://www.ifhaonline.org/resources/NP_2021.pdf
  • 10. Naming Your AQHA Foal – AQHA [Internet]. www.aqha.com. Available from: https://www.aqha.com/-/naming-your-aqha-foal
Emily Donoho
Emily Donoho

Emily is a native of Colorado, currently living in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a freelance writer. She is a long-time horsewoman, having started riding at the age of 6, then competing in dressage around Colorado and Massachusetts, where she finished her undergraduate degree in psychology.

Following a move to the UK and a PhD, she worked for a few years as a freelance horse trainer in Central Scotland. She’s interested in holistic horsemanship, fostering better communication and understanding between horses and humans, riding with lightness and softness, and she’s forever seeking out the newest research into equine behavior and psychology. When not writing, she can be found at the barn with her two equine partners, Foinavon, an ex-feral Highland pony, and Hermosa, a young Andalusian.
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