The Name

The Swiss named the breed "Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund". "Grosser" translates into "big, large, great". The word "Senn" cannot be translated directly. It stands for an age-old agricultural occupation found in all alpine regions of Western and Central Europe. A Senn is a seasonal alpine dairyman. "Schweizer" and "Hund" simply mean "Swiss" and "dog", respectively.

Quite understandably, the founding members of the "Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America" could not name the breed "Seasonal alpine dairyman's dog". And since the precedent to translate satisfactorily at least a part of the name existed already with the translation of the "Berner Sennenhund" into "Bernese Mountain Dog", it was reasonable to use this also for the Swissy.

Those early club members then translated "Grosser" into "Greater". According to one of the members, Patricia Hoffman, the club chose "Greater" over "Great, Large, Big" to differentiate the breed from others with the adjective "Great" in their names, such as the Great Dane or the Great Pyrenees. While the good intentions of these GSMDCA members are not in question, their understanding of the historical and grammatical context remains doubtful. In addition, it is highly unlikely that any dog fancier would confound a Swissy with a Dane or a Pyrenees just because they have the same adjective in their names...

When the venerable Dr. Albert Heim gave the breed its name at that fateful dog show in Switzerland in 1908, the other three Sennenhunde breeds had already been labeled as Berner, Appenzeller and Entlebucher Sennenhunde. Indeed, these breeds were named after the geographic regions in Switzerland where they originated from, i.e. the size was not the determining factor. And while the Swissy originally was more heavily represented in the canton of Bern, Dr. Heim did not choose to compare it to the other breeds based on geographic origins. Had he done so, he might have called it "Greater Bernese Mountain Dog", or in German "Groesserer Berner Sennenhund". He deliberately set the breed apart from the others and probably called it "Grosser" because it was a large Sennenhund of a type of dog commonly found in many rural areas of Switzerland outside of the canton of Bern.

Hence, the translation of "Gross, grosser, grosse" into "Greater" ("Groesserer" in German) is historically as well as grammatically incorrect. The Swiss Kennel Club, in its translation of the name, calls it "Great Swiss Mountain Dog". The "Federation Cynologique Internationale" (FCI), the umbrella organization for national kennel clubs worldwide except the AKC and the British KC, also translated the German name into English as "Great Swiss Mountain Dog".

As a native German speaker from Switzerland, Brigitte has used the term "Great Swiss Mountain Dog" in all her own written and spoken communications since becoming a member of the GSMDCA in 1989. However, at this time, the AKC approved name for the breed remains "Greater Swiss Mountain Dog" and for web search purposes, throughout this new version of the BCF website, the AKC approved name is used.

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