Sunday, June 04, 2006

Naming A Cat Is A Serious Business

Felix the CatWhen Felix the Cat first appeared in the 1920's, every second black cat stood in danger of being called Felix. Today's black cats are liable to be called Sooty, stripy cats are often nicknamed Tiger and, given the success of the most famous ginger kitty in the world, many orange cats will be Garfield.

It may seem from the abundance of cats named Fluffy or Sweetie that naming a cat is a frivolous act but for us naming cats is a serious business.

Although I'm a writer, Scoop isn't named after Evelyn Waugh's famous book that made fun of journalism. He got his name because we spent the first 3 days of our acquaintance scooping him out of the house, telling him we moved around a lot and couldn't offer him a proper home. When we finally agreed to let him move in, his name was obvious. (Note: as it turned out, Scoop was quite right. He has moved with us 4 times now without any fuss at all - he even took the move by plane from Kuching, Sarawak to Malacca in West Malaysia in his stride!)

Because of his doggy brown colour, Scoop is also referred to on occasion as Mr Brown.
The cheshire cat (seen here as drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
Au's coat is a golden colour in the sunlight. He also loves to play very rough games, pouncing on us from behind doors and inviting us for a roll and bite on the bed or rug. With our squeals on the one hand as he bites too enthusiastically and with Au standing for gold in the chemistry lab, the name seemed suitable.

With deference to his junior cat position, we sometimes call him Mr Kitty. Uninspired perhaps but it's a habit.

It's rare to find a cat with just one name. As the poet knew, cats have three names:

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter,
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George, or Bill Bailey ---
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter ---
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum ---
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover ---
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

--- T.S. Eliot, in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

If you're having trouble naming your kitty, this encyclopaedia of 5000 cat names will let you search by sex, appearance, origin, characteristics and much more. Entries come with etymologies, references and other interesting titbits.

Alternatively, take a look at kittynames that let's you search by sex, appearance, origin, characteristics and much more. There's also a top list of popular names, and a reverse lookup that let's you check your kitty's name. This part is still being worked at though, as Scoop is defined as a "Thick handled utensil with cuplike end used to serve ice-cream," and Au wasn’t listed. As you can imagine, neither is amused!

PS the pictures above, Felix the Cat and The Cheshire Cat ( as drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland) are both public domain images.

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3 comments:

Tink said...

Great post! Thanks for leaving the link at my blog!

John Evans said...

great post, really informative. Also try these cat names if you are stuck for ideas!

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