What's in a name: How Thoroughbred Race Horses get such unique names

Saturday's race could be a muddy mess. (NBC RAW)

It's the most exciting two minutes in sports, and it's filled with wacky, creative names that live on in history.

Who can forget I'll Have Another, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Affirmed and Secretariat? There'll all winners of the Kentucky Derby raced at Churchill Downs. The 143rd Kentucky Derby is Saturday at 6 p.m. on 11Alive.

This year's list of names include Girvin, Irap, J Boys Echo, Practical Joke and McCraken, just to name a few. 

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There's a science behind naming Thoroughbred Race Horses. It involves a long list of requirements and guidelines in place by the Jockey Club. But what really inspires those unique names?

At any current time, there are hundreds of thousands of active horse names registered to the Jockey Club, each unique in name and in phonetics.

Owners of Thoroughbreds submit a name to the Jockey Club, and the name is entered it into a computer. The computer checks the phonetics of the name to ensure it does not sound at all similar to any other names of active horses. That way, there is no confusion on which horse race fans are cheering for and-- more importantly-- betting on to win. 

Once a name is taken, it can't be used again for 10 years. Even then, there are retired names that are off limits.

Want to name a horse after someone who is living? Owners have to get permission for that. For example, during the George H. Bush presidency, the Jockey Club received a message on a White House Letterhead to grant permission for a horse to use the name of First Lady Barbra Bush, according to NPR.

There is a long list of other rules, such as a name can't be longer than 18 characters, a foreign name must be translated then submitted in English to the Jockey Club, naughty or suggestive names can be denied and horses with those names can be scratched from competition, and something completely random or made up has to be submitted with an explanation of what it means.

 Here are more guidelines from the Jockey Club. Want to see if a name has ever been used? Click here.

1. Names consisting of more than 18 letters (spaces and punctuation marks count as letters);

2. Names consisting entirely of initials such as C.O.D., F.O.B., etc.;

3. Names ending in "filly," "colt," "stud," "mare," "stallion," or any similar horse-related term;

4. Names consisting entirely of numbers. Numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out;

5. Names ending with a numerical designation such as "2nd" or "3rd," whether or not such a designation is spelled out;

6. Names of living persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club;

7. Names of persons no longer living unless approval is granted by The Jockey Club based upon a satisfactory written explanation submitted to the Registrar;

8. Names of racetracks or graded stakes races;

9. Names clearly having commercial, artistic or creative significance;

10. Names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups;

11. Names that appear to be designed to harass, humiliate or disparage a specific individual, group of individuals or entity;

12. Names that are currently active either in racing or breeding (see Rule6(E));

13. Names of winners in the past 25 years of grade one stakes races;

14. Permanent names. The list of criteria to establish a permanent name is as follows:

a. Horses in racing's Hall of Fame;

b. Horses that have been voted Horse of the Year;

c. Horses that have won an Eclipse Award;

d. Horses that have won a Sovereign Award (Canadian Champions);

e. Annual leading sire and broodmare sire by progeny earnings;

f. Cumulative money winners of $2 million or more;

g. Horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, The Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Breeders' Cup Classic or the Breeders' Cup Turf; and

h. Horses included in the International List of Protected Names.

15. Names similar in spelling or pronunciation to the classes of names listed in Rule 6(F) 6 - 14 above.

16. Names of horses previously recorded in The American Stud Book by the same sire or out of the same dam as the foal for which the attempt is made.

17. Names of horses appearing within the first five generations of the pedigree of the foal for which the attempt is made.

PHOTOS | Horses at the Kentucky Derby

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