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The Naming of Cats

Today whilst fondling Buddy The Beagle #3’s silky ears, I wondered why so many beagles are given the name Buddy. Actually, it made me think of my colleague and friend who, with his wife, were so flummoxed by the responsibility of naming their first and only child that the lad was called “Buddy” for two years until a suitable name could be agreed upon. That said, naming children can be an onerous task. I never liked my own name—no one else in the family has a name anything like mine. We are a family of Elizabeths, Marjories, Jessicas and Florences; not Carols! I once complained to my long-suffering mother concerning her choice and was told in no uncertain terms that I was named for Carole Lombard and to stop being so ungrateful. End of that conversation! I have sometimes agonized over naming pets—children were far easier for some odd reason. My much loved Cocker Spaniel, William, was called “pupster” for several weeks until the day he came in strewn with small pink blossoms from digging in the garden and upending a whole bed of Sweet William plants. I guess it was the only way he knew to tell me his name. And it worked! William he was for the whole 16 turbulent and glorious years that we were together. Most of my furry companions have come to me as rescues with names already in place, but on the odd occasion when I have been faced with name choosing, I feel the same sense of bewilderment that I remember so very well from the William days. It is a heavy responsibility, naming a living being. Upon investigation, I discovered a wealth of websites whose aim is to aid those of us whose naming skills are in need of some input. They range from the obvious: list upon list of “names for ______”—dogs, cats, ferrets, et al. Others suggest a more psychological or holistic approach: what sounds are pleasing to your ears, or which sounds does your furry companion naturally respond to. It seems that the consensus is that dogs, in particular, respond to names such as Sara or Bongo, that end in a vowel sound. My favorite was a personality test for the pet owner that “guaranteed” a pleasing name derived from a series of questions and answers about such odd things as favorite foods (not planning a menu here folks), to color choices favorite cars and leisure time activities. There was a sprinkling of “self-help” style columns that advocate naming one’s companion after a favorite literary or film character. I expect to hear of quite a few “Mad Max” puppies in the next year. Apparently, naming is an art, a science, serendipity or intuition. There are rules concerning phonetics, and rules that ignore phonetics. Issues of family harmony, cute or cool factors, and countless dos and don’t from self-anointed pet naming experts. Agreement was reached concerning length: try to stick to one or two syllables, so as to catch the attention of said pet. I guess that T.S. Eliot will just have to give up his two favorites: Asparagus and Mungojerry! Many of you will be familiar with the Broadway musical “Cats!” It is based on a book of verse written by the same T.S. Eliot, one of my favorite poets. The introductory poem in “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, alludes to the dilemma of naming. I have included it here in the hopes that you will find the same enjoyment in it that I do:

The Naming Of Cats by T. S. Eliot

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


Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

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