Often in the Spanish language you would indicate someone's name using the verb 'llamarse', for example if you say 'his name is Joe' it would typically be

Él se llama Joe

which literally translates to 'he calls himself Joe'. A problem arises however, when you're talking about animals. Outside of the occasional 'Polly wants a cracker' animals don't call themselves anything at all, not being using any language and all.

El perro se llama Fido

Would it be weird at all to say this, as opposed to something like

El nombre del perro es Fido

On one hand its what you use for people too, so you would think it would be much simpler to just be uniform across both. But on the other hand the animal doesn't actually use that name. I guess I might just be overthinking it, and its something that no native Spanish speakers ever think of, just some weird quirk no one ever realized, but maybe not.

bonus points for how it would work with inanimate objects.

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    If you think about it -- a newborn is given a name, but the baby doesn't call himself that yet. // "Se llama" doesn't actually mean "he calls himself." The conundrum you found only exists if you believe that it does mean "he calls himself." Commented May 3, 2019 at 3:36
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    It would be weird to hear El nombre del perro es Fido unless you are emphasizing the dog actually has a name
    – Bernat
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 11:47
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    You could also change the sentence to se le llama Fido. This syntax is somewhat a way to create a passive voice, it is not reflexive. Another example is se hace camino al andar (The path is made as you go). Commented May 3, 2019 at 14:34
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    @PabloLozano se le llama is actually an impersonal construction. Commented May 3, 2019 at 14:55
  • @guifa I'm not quite sure if it is a impersonal sentence or a pasiva refleja. Commented May 3, 2019 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


While one of the uses of se is indeed to make a verb reflexive, it has a number of other uses. One of those other uses is — in third person — to make the verb passive. Thus,

El perro se llama Fido

would not be interpreted as equivalent to

El perro se llama Fido a sí mismo

but rather to

El perro es llamado Fido, or
Llaman al perro Fido

Because the lines between the passive/reflexive/pronominal/reciprocal/impersonal uses of se can be quite blurry at times, I don't think Spanish speakers ever really think about it. Using it with inanimate things is no problem:

Este libro se llama El Quijote
El regodeo en alemán famosamente se llama Schadenfreude.

The DLE feels apt to declare this a pronominal use, but as you can see, it can be seen as a passive form (or even, in the single, an impersonal!):

  1. prnl. Tener el nombre o la denominación que se expresa.

Your direct translation is correct, as in it directly translates to "The dog calls himself Fido", which it obvoiusly does not. Nevertheless, this is the way it is used. I believe even for inanimate objects, such as a building, it is not incorrect to say "Se llama La Casa Blanca". Though more naturally, people would say "Esta es la Casa Blanca."

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