The word Pug was not used as a breed name until 1749 and only in combination of 'Pug-dog'. Before that the word was used as a word of affection and only applied to humans.
"My sweete pugge... thi absens will make the returne of thy swete cumpany the more welcum to me". T. Drant, 1566.
"My prettie Pug (so fooles, hugging their bables, tearme them)", Randle Cotgrave, 1611.
By the end of the 1600's the word "pug" used as an affectionate word became out of fashion. In the meaning of sprite or imp the word "Pug" appeared for the first time in 1661, which may confirm the theory of an evolution in the spelling of "Puck" towards "Pug" (see further). The word Pug monkey was first attested in 1664 and the word 'Pug' was later used in the extended sense as a nickname for both a monkey or dog (Bailey's Dictionary of 1731). The most plausible explanation for the breed's name is the dog's facial resemblance to that of the Pug monkeys that were popular pets of the early 1700s.
However, other theories exist to explain the etymology of the breed name.
According to 'Stonehenge' (pseudonym of the nineteenth century dog specialist John Henry Walsh), the word Pug is derived from a Greek word that comes from the Latin pugnus, meaning fist, "because the shadow of a clenched fist was considered to resemble the dog's profile."
Another hypothesis is that "Pug" is a misspelling of "Puck", a mischievous fairy in English folklore. From 1500's on and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream the name Puck referred to a mischievous goblin. The word "Pug" itself appeared for the first time in 1661 in the meaning of sprite or imp, which may confirm the theory of an evolution in the spelling of "Puck" towards "Pug". The puckish disposition of the Pug is undeniable according to Trullinger, who sees further evidence for that theory in the fact that the term "pucked up' is used by some of the nineteenth century authorities to describe the Pug's wrinkled face. This theory is not incompatible with the first one, i.e. the word for Pug monkey may have come from "Puck" and from there have been applied indifferently to monkeys and pugs before it became a breed name.
Pug in other languages
(Translations for "Pug" and nicknames for the breed)
The Pug is known by different names in different languages:
Mopshond (Dutch, or short "Mops"),
Doguillo (Spanish, but the Italian "Carlino" is now more common in Spain), Mopsi (Finnish),
Mopshund (German, or short "Mops"), Mops in German also means "roly poly", i.e. someone who is pleasantly fat and round;
Mops (Swedish, Polish, Danish),
Smutmhadra (Irish Gaelic) literally meaning "stubby dog"
Lags k'yi (Tibetan).
The French breed name Carlin was inspired by the actor Carlo Antonio Bertinazzi, a famous actor of the Italian Theatre of Paris in the 1700s, better known under the pseudonym of Carlin, who played the role of Harlequin with a black mask. The name Carlin indicates that the black mask was a particularly valued Pug characteristic in France at that time.
The word Mops found in the Dutch, German and Swedish breed name is derived from the Low German word moppen meaning 'to make a sour face'.
The Chinese Lo-sze refers to the Foo Dog, an ancestor of the Pug.
Other names by which Pugs were known include: the Dwarf Mastiff, the Dutch Mastiff and the Dutch Pug, which may confirm the theory that the Pug was first known in Holland before it was introduced in England.
In the 19th century Pugs were also colloquially called "the figure-of-eight dog" and "the jug-handled dog".
The Japanese language uses one generic Kanji 狆 (pronounced "chin") to refer to a lap dog, such as the Pekinese, Pug and Japanese Chin. In combination with other signs this Kanji may also mean "pug-faced" or "pug-nosed" (person). As the same Kanji is used to mean "lap dog" and "short-nosed", this seems to reinforce the theory that all lap dogs stemming from the Orient were short-nosed.