Most people don’t really think about this but Labrador Retrievers did not come from Labrador but instead the nearby island of Newfoundland. OK, technically the Labrador Retriever originated in England but its ancestor, the St. John’s dog, came from Newfoundland. So why, if they did not come from Labrador, are they called Labrador Retrievers?
In a way the answer is quite simple. The original breeder of Labrador Retrievers, the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury, called them Labrador dogs but the first known use of that name came years after he first imported the St. John’s dogs to England in a letter penned by his grandson. By then it was believed that the term was already in common use.
The name was given since Labrador dogs originated in the territory of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is believed that the name Labrador came from the Portuguese and their word lavradores which means worker. Certainly an apt name for the dog. The Portuguese were also the ones to give Newfoundland its name calling it Terra Nova, or new land and it is quite possible that the St. John’s dog’s ancestors came from Portugal. The name Labrador Retriever became official when the breed was recognized by the Kennel Club of England in 1903.
There could be another reason as well. The St. John’s dog was also known as a Lesser Newfoundland. These dogs were interbred with other working dogs to create the Newfoundland breed (as well as several other breeds of working dogs including the Labrador Retriever). With both the Lesser Newfoundland and the Newfoundland giving the breed the name Labrador may have been done to avoid confusion as well, even if the breed never set foot in Labrador.
You do have to admit Labrador Retriever rolls off the tongue much easier than Newfoundland Retriever does. It could have just been a matter of convenience for the English speaking world.
Nothing would have been accomplished if I didn’t start in Newfoundland.