In a story set in the mid-nineteenth century, a girl refers to her female dog, but having this girl say “my female dog” sounds emotionless to me for a beloved pet. There is a word and an expression, “doggess” and "lady doggess", which were scarcely used in that period, though they appear in the 1823 “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” in both meanings, as a female dog and as a bitch [sic]. For me, a native Spanish speaker, “bitch” sounds too much like “puta”—which means "prostitute"—to use it for a pet. Is there another way to refer to this female dog?

I would greatly appreciate your help in clarifying this matter.

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    She-dog was probably more common than doggess as a euphemism for bitch; but dog is usually sufficient for either sex. Oct 21, 2023 at 9:33
  • Why couldn't the girl refer to her dog by the dog's name? Or by breed - 'my husky' or 'my pomeranian'? Oct 24, 2023 at 14:48
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    @GiantSpaceHamster Most dog breeds only were just starting to be defined in mid 19th century. While selective breeding for desired traits did exist prior to this, there were at most only a handful of the breeds we know today (With Hunting Dogs, Sled Dogs, Mastiffs, and Greyhound/Racing dogs being the oldest known breeds). The Kennel Club, the first registration of dog breeds in the world, wasn't founded until 1875 in London, which would make the idea of a character knowing of dog breeds (no less a child) in the 1850s highly unlikely.
    – hszmv
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:44
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    @KateBunting She-Wolf is commonly used for female wolves. Depending on the age of the character and her education, she would simply make a statement that the dog "is a girl" or a "girl dog" or give the dog a female name. Additionally in English, it's considered rude to call something capable of having a characterization an "it" so the dog, as a named character, would be referred to by the gendered pronouns. Merely using a She/her in narration in reference to the dog would get the point across.
    – hszmv
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:48
  • @hszmv - I didn't mean to suggest that the girl would say she-dog (she would probably just say dog) - just that it was more common than the obscure word doggess Nov 1, 2023 at 8:55

3 Answers 3


The common word used to refer to a dog of either sex in everyday English today is "dog". Native speakers of English don't usually use sex-specific terms nowadays when speaking of individual dogs. They say, for example, "my dog", not "my bitch". "Bitch", if not used derogatorily, is a technical term used mostly by dog breeders. But was that different in Victorian England?

Whatever terms were commonly used by dog owners in the nineteenth century should frequently appear in books of that time, so we can look in books to find out about the usage. To differentiate other mentions of dogs (e.g. by breeders or dog haters) we can look for phrases such as "my dog", "my bitch", "my doggess", etc. So what we can do is look at the frequency of these phrases or ngrams. Fortunately, Google has digitized many books and offers a free public tool that allows us to search books for these ngrams, the Google Ngram Viewer.

As you can see, the most frequent ngram during the ninteenth century is "my dog":

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"My bitch" and the other synonyms for dog are rare, and there are no results for "my doggess" at all. This seems to indicate that dogs were commonly referred to by dog owners as "dog" – or probably, like today, by the dog's name.

The Collins Dictionary tells us that "doggess" is a humorous term. The word doesn't even appear in most other dictionaries. As such, we shouldn't expect it to be commonly used by dog owners to speak of their dog.

I showed you an easy way to do this kind of research using publicly available tools. If you wanted to be more thorough, you would use more comprehensive tools such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) that tells you when what word was in use and with what meaning and give you historic examples for the different kinds of usage. There you could verify or falsify if your word was used in the way you want to use it in a certain period.

Most university libraries and many large public libraries have bought a license for the OED and you can access it from computers in the library network. If you write historical fiction, you likely need to research other things as well. You could wait until a couple of research questions have accumulated and then spend a day at the university library to do your research.

In the OED all the quotations under doggess are from humorous publications. All the quotations under bitch (with the meaning of "female dog") from the 1800s are in relation to breeding.

The relation between dog owner and dog was probably different in the Victorian era than it is today. Here is an introductory article about the development of pet ownership during that time: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/19/pets-how-victorians-turned-beats-into-mans-best-friends. And here is a review of a book on dogs during Victorian times: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/how-the-dog-found-a-place-in-the-family-home-from-the-victorian-age-to-ours


Just dog. If it is necessary to distinguish the gender of the dog, and it is a beloved pet, she could call it "my baby girl", "my dog sister", "my dog girlfriend", or use some other gender specific term of endearment.

English does have gender specific words (policeman or policewomen, chairman or chairwomen, salesman or saleswoman or salesgirl, waiter and waitress, actor vs actress, boyfriend or girlfriend, etc). Also son, daughter, sister, brother, aunt or uncle.

Recently we've been moving to gender-neutral terms:chairperson, salesperson, etc. Or sometimes abandoning the female form and using the male form for both, "actor" is increasingly used for both males and females, "partner" or "romantic partner" is increasingly used instead of girlfriend or boyfriend.

But even back in the 1800s we only gender a small percentage of nouns, not every noun, like dogs, or bridges, etc.

If you think it is important to identify the dog's gender for story or plot purposes, don't get technical, use an affectionate name.


the word "dog" referred to the male only, and "bitch" referred to females. The generic gender-neutral term for this animal is "Hound" which in modern English is generally used to refer to breeds of dog used for hunting, specifically scent dogs (Like the Bloodhound) however the diversity of dog breeds was a late 19th century thing at best, and some of the earliest pedigree breeds were hunting dogs.

While English does have a lot of gendered terms for animals, in the case of Hounds, dog is an appropriate gender neutral term in the modern language, though you can see some influences in modern English (For example, the song "Houd Dog" made famous by singer Elvis Presley was originally written for singer Big Mama Thorton, and is essentially the singer chiding a man for being a "Hound dog" and phrases like "Men are dogs" are still common in English, though do not carry the same sting as women being likened to female dogs. It's still an insult, but one you could get away with in a Disney film.).

There are other examples of gendered animal terms in English, most related to domesticated animals, though many animals with strong sexual dimorphism have gendered terminology. For example, a Stallion (m) and Mare (f) are both horses, a Bull (m) and Cow (f) are both cattle or bovine or cows(generic) (Or Elephants... Or Rhinos... Or Alligators... or Whales... or T-Rexes Bull/Cow can refer to male or female of many animals. Rooster/Cock (M) and a Hen (F) are both chickens. A Peacock (M) and a Peahen (F) are both Peafowl. A Tom (m) and a Molly (F) are both cats, though among big cats a tigress and a lioness are both female while Tiger and Lion refer to both the male and a member of the species of any gender. It's more used with lions since they have very notable dimorphism.

  • 1
    the word "dog" referred to the male only, ... The generic gender-neutral term for this animal is "Hound" -- This is wrong. The OED defines dog as (1) the species, (2) a synonym for hound (i.e. "a dog kept and used for hunting") and (3) the male of the species ("as a way of distinguishing sex: a male dog, as opposed to a female one; contrasted with bitch"). The OED defines hound as (1) "a dog, generally, now only archaic or poetic" (this meaning died out in the mid 1800s) and (2) "a dog kept or used for the chase".
    – Ben
    Oct 21, 2023 at 6:23
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    So, in 1850 or so, both words, dog and hound could be used to denote the species and both could be understood to be "generic gender-neutral terms" but the word hound was already in its final stages of the transition to meaning a hunting dog only.
    – Ben
    Oct 21, 2023 at 6:25
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    @Ben The term Hound derives from German word Hund which is the still used term for the species today. Dog's origin in the English Language is unknown but was documented around the 1200s as an abusive term for a male. I think you mistook my timeline for selective breeding of canines for desired traits (and recognized breeds) which did only begin in the 19th century, beyond the hunting dogs, many of which are defined as "hounds" in breeding circles. Again, likening a person offensively to a dog is still generally used only for a human male, much like how bitch is female only.
    – hszmv
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:36

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