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By Their Cats Thou Shalt Know Them

By Their Cats Thou Shalt Know Them

Mumble years ago, my husband and I were sitting in a comedy club in Charlotte NC when the poor visiting comedian decided to make a riff on common cats’ names versus common dogs’ names, or such. He started by saying that dogs were given manly names – I don’t remember the examples he gave – while cats got names... and here he made the mistake of pausing and asking who in the audience had cats. Our entire table raised their hands.

The comedian might still have saved himself, had he noticed that we looked a little... unusual... He didn’t. So he asks my husband his cat’s name. He said, “Petronius the Arbiter, cat from Hades.” Comedian said “uh” but, nothing daunted, proceeded on his – oh so very – unwise course. He points at me – clearly not taking the hint that we were married from our holding hands. Or perhaps he thought one of us had to be sane – and says, “And your cat’s name?” “I have two,” I said. “Random Numbers and Pixel Wallwalker.” You’d think by this point he would take a hint, but nothing doing. He points to a friend of ours at same table and says, “And yours?” “Crystal.” Another friend, “Yours?” “Myiuki,” he says. “It means Deep Snow and...” At which point the man lost it. “WHAT are you guys? Did you land from Planet Weirdo?”

All I can say is he could have done worse. He might have found a table full of writers. Recently while talking about cats to a friend, it occurred to me that writers have a strange and creative approach to naming their cats. (Some of them carry this as far as naming their kids, their cars, their home appliances and their dental floss. The least said about THOSE writers, the best.)

For instance, the Hoyt demesne is afflicted with a mix of variously named felines, ranging from our own characters to other people’s characters. Under my own characters we have Miranda Princess D’Ardenes (And no, Sean, if you read this, I did not want to name her after the little b*tch in my third published book. Unfortunately it was the only name she responded to), and D’Artagnan Monsieur de Pink Nose. Dan’s character’s name Ninth Euclid Ancel graces the black silky fur (except in the places he’s pulled it off, aka his legs and tummy) of the cat otherwise known as The Neurotalon. Inexplicably, for reasons known only to Bast – who clearly has a sense of humor – our newest cat, the fluffy bundle of purrs and squeaks we found at a golf course, would only answer to Havelock Vetinari, aka Terry Pratchett’s Patrician. In Havey’s defense, he probably heard it as “Havoc” and has been living up to it. The outdoor not-our-cat TM (Ask my husband. Cat is named, chipped and vaccinated, but he’s NOT our cat. Dan says so. And I think I swore to obey him. Or the other way around. Well, obedience was in there, somewhere) earned the name Greebo by beating up a mad feral tom who was courting mom cat when Greebo was around ten weeks old. His brother who -- I think -- is the mastermind of the duo, answers to Maurice. He usually “talks” in response, which goes to show. (Not sure what, but it does go to show.)

And if at this point you’re thinking my family is exceptionally weird, let me grace you with the names of pets of a few of my writerly acquaintances: Walter Jon Williams has a cat named Charles Dickens, because he (the cat, not Walter!) is one. Cynthia Ward calls her (we’re sure blameless. We’ve yet to meet a cat who wasn’t) cats Schwa and Umlaut. Tom Ashwell named his cat Smudge, which sounds downright cozy and sane. Darwin Garrison (we’re sure for good and sufficient reason. We’re afraid to ask which) calls his gray Himalayan mix Vash the Stampede. Michael Britton has cast the name Francisco Thomas on the head of his unsuspecting captive feline (though in Michael’s defense, he calls the cat Sisko.) Jessica Schlenker not only called her cat Vampire Hunter D, but seems to have called him that because he used to suck people’s necks. [No, we’re not going to enquire any further. We’re scared. (As for why I’m using the first person plural it’s because I’d be afraid of being singular in the presence of these names.)] Brad Sinor comes in on the side of nominally sane, since he named his grey cats Ash and Pewter which at least has a nodding acquaintance with shared reality. Aaron Bilodeau has named his cat Grendel (doubtless the next addition to the family will be Beowulf.) Julie Hyzy calls her cat Kitka which might seem charmingly feline, until you hear it’s short for Kitayna Ireyna Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff, apparently a name assumed by Catwoman. (Um, tangentially related to cats, but I think in violation of the rule that no cat should be given a name longer than the cat itself.)

Meg Turville-Heitz admits to Scooby, Pig, Spot, Razz (short for Raspberry) and the most boringly named Callie, who replaced Dudie the Himalayan. To make up for Callie, though, she offers to give us the names of the chickens and the sheep. (And apparently they don’t go by the collective name “food” – who knew? Though she does say the sheep tend to get food names. Considering I once named pet mice Whiskas and Nine Lives, I can’t comment.) Walt Boyes named his cats Stinkerbelle-of-the-ball and Mister Grimace. Strangely, neither of the cats has clawed him to death in his sleep. Go figure. All of this is eclipsed by my writer friend, Amanda Green, who named her cat Thena, after the main character of Darkship Thieves. (Ladies and gentlemen, would you do that? And then cuddle said cat? I’ll note cat does her best to live up to it.)

Dead cats aren’t particularly safe. We’re sure in whatever after-mice they inhabit, Steven Swiniarski’s Schrodinger & Mu are still wondering why. And we’re fairly sure death hasn’t stopped Fuzzard meditating revenge upon Danney Reese (wonder what spectral hairballs are like?) Lin Wicklund’s late lamented black cat was called Sam Spade, the Maltese Feline – we assume she was hard to find? (She? Lin! And we thought we knew you.) Walter Jon Williams had a cat called Tenzing Norgay because he liked to climb. (Are there cats who don’t? Where have all of you been hiding them? Can someone hook us up with a kitten who won’t dance along the top of our bookcases raining books down on our heads?) He also tells us a conveniently unnamed friend (wink, wink nudge, nudge?) named her cat Frogs In Space. “She” used to go to “her” door and yell out “Frogs in Space.” (We think Walter should admit he’s a writer and therefore strange and stop trying to pass that amazingly creative feat of naming onto an imaginary friend. :) ) Debbora Wiles has had an array of dauntingly named cats: Tea Pot, Ginger, Dominique, Pepsi, Knight Rider, Booger, Sparks, Sebastian, Kasper (whom we assume is now the friendly cat ghost.) She’s offered to give us the names of eighty or so named koi out in the koi pond, but we feel there is knowledge man (or woman, or small child) is not supposed to pursue.

Writers frustrated by the lack of cats aren’t any less weird. Taylor Lunsford’s dog glories in the unusual name of Flyer (you know he sits on top of his doghouse, chasing the Red Baron.) Mark W. Tiedemann named his dog Coffey. Meg Turville-Heitz, in addition to cats and sheep and chickens, has a dog named Murphy (whom we presume is a law onto himself.) Carol Hightshoe had a dog named Bexar Waarigul Little One Whimper Hightshoe. For some reason she seems to believe the fact she called him Beer Bexar for short makes it all better. Ryk Spoor believes the fact that he’s allergic to cats will excuse him for naming a dog the macho name of Ferocious. (Though I admit the fact that it’s a miniature poodle might earn him some irony points.) And Dave Boop claims innocence due to lack of cats and dogs, but cops to OWNING a ten year old and some fish. I’m scared to ask their names.

OTOH, no cat, dead, alive, or so eccentric as to be a dog (or a sheep, or a chicken or, for that matter, a koi) can glory in a name as strange as the young cat adopted by my friend Kate Paulk, which -- in the Terry Pratchett scale of names most and least suitable to be called out in the middle of the night while banging a spoon on the food dish (number ten being a short, non-embarrassing name like “Zut”) -- is at least a -20. This cat, ladies, gentlemen and writers, glories in the name Little Bugger. (For more on how he was named, see her live journal link. http://katepaulk.livejournal.com/9693.html where she shamelessly admits to other reckless naming of cats. ) Imagine roaming your neighborhood at night, banging on the cat dish and shouting, “Little Bugger, come to Mommy, I have nummy tuna.”

Now excuse me, I must go out and call Greebo Witchcat Ogg Hoyt and find out why he hasn’t shown up for dinner.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
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.
Jan. 27th, 2010 06:22 am (UTC)
Heheheh. Our cat names really do range. There's Stucco (male shorthair tuxedo), Gabriel LeFluff (male Maine Coon), Lady Jane Yowlin (female shorthair tabby), Diana (female black longhair), Molly (female orange longhair), Jenny (female grey shorthair), Salt (male shorthair WTF, white and grey and approximately the size of a small car) and Pepper (his sister, white and grey and a 3rd his size).

Past cats included Whiskers, Paddington, Pandora, Wendy and Groucho. I like to joke that we have an English kids' lit theme going, since Wendy, Molly, and Jane represent three generations of the Darling family from Peter Pan (depending on what sources you accept) and Paddington is self-explanatory.

Needless to say, those are their common usenames. Each and every one of them has a dozen other names and titles depending on the occasion, the mood, or the need.
Jan. 27th, 2010 06:37 am (UTC)
Awesome post, Sarah! ::LOL:: Our own cats are Lelu (Fifth Element fame), Ruby Rod (Fifth Element fame), and Tabitha (Stray Cat fame). We've lost Jezebel (Biblical fame) and Sprite (the drink, not the fairy). Our dogs aren't quite so interesting...Diamond (RIP), Dana (RIP), Bongo, and Zoey. But all of these are topped by our Beta fish, Sushi (RIP). We won't even get into the rabbits.

I think my favorite from above is Stinkerbelle. Go, Walt!
Alex Swavely [myopenid.com]
Jan. 27th, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
The one cat I named was 'Squeaks' (for obvious reason), but it was overridden by his resident staff (to 'Stripes', also obvious).

My dog was already named Betty when I adopted her - I kept it since she's a rescue and I'm an Al (of sorts), ergo it was apropos.
Jan. 27th, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
I have Xander from Buffy and Kyra from Stephen King's BAG OF BONES =)
Jan. 27th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
Our office cats are named Ninotchka (Hank named her after the title character in a Greta Garbo comedy, plus she has a notched ear) and Butch (Toni named him, she says it's a manly name for a boy-cat).
Jan. 27th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)

Butch? Sigh. She's a late convert to cat person. The ridiculously long, convolutedly justified names will come.

re: your icon in this -- our Petronius (Pete) was Bucky, down to the missing fang.

Also, I should mention that Baen taking electronic submissions prevents me from trying the Bucky road to publication "there is something for you between pages 134 and 136. If it's still moving, give it a few wacks." :-P Mind you, being me, it would probably be a candy mouse.
Jan. 27th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid that poor Butch, having had his manhood cruelly removed by the v-e-t, has gained some weight. Thus, I've taken to calling him Shamu on occasion, usually right after he's landed in my lap with an audible thump. Given his black and white coloring he also sometimes gets called "the furry police car."

My personal cats are Joey (already so named by the people at the animal shelter), Boots (already named that by my grandmother), and Oberon--she's the only one I was able to name myself and is a small, fierce tortie who was insistent that she didn't want to be called Titania.

Mmm... chocolate mice...
Jan. 27th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
What you should call Butch is actually "Hindenkitty" which is what we call Havey for same reasons. (Courtesy my friend Sean, by weird sideways means, on one of his blog posts about a puppy.) Though Robert also calls him The Liberty Bell, from the shape Havey makes when sitting down. Havey will eventually lose weight when he can no longer get up to eat. Unless, of course, he convinces us to strap a feedbag to his little muzzle. And out of this MASSIVE bulk, comes the tiniest, daintiest of squeeks. It's either sad or endearing.

Chocolate mice... Uh. Might have to make them.
Jan. 27th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
And out of this MASSIVE bulk, comes the tiniest, daintiest of squeeks.

I know! Butch has a little girly squeek too!

Just remember to take the bones out of the chocolate mice so that they're not crunchy. ;)
Jan. 27th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
i'm a dog person, and i've been *dying* to get a new dog so i can name him 'Sparta'. or her. gender doesn't matter so long as i get to randomly shout out for no reason at all 'This! Is! Sparta!!!!'


Jan. 27th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
There is a FAMOUS youtube cat by that name, but you are correct. It would be a great name for a dog. OTOH the only appropriate name for a cat would be Xerxes, since they're all gods in their own minds. (And weirdly often ours, too.)
Jan. 27th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
If we ever get another black cat, and I can convince him to answer to this, I shall call him "Droit" -- from Pratchett. Droit Du Seigneur, The Big Black Thing... He will also, officially, be Dan's cat. Then I can say "Dan's Droit Du Seigneur is roaming around, getting exercised."
Jan. 27th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
I think Seanen McGuire's cat deserves mention. Alice Price-Healy Little Liddel Abernathy McGuire doesn't violate the name longer than the cat standard by virtue of being a maine coon.
Jan. 28th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
We had an almost-ours maine coon. He belonged to the city commissioner down the street and responded to the unimaginative moniker of Cuddles. We almost got away with him, but his owner saw him in our yard before we moved. Too bad. I don't think he'd been home in months. Clearly he liked us better. :) However, apparently, he was you know, worth money. Slavery, I call it.
Jan. 27th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I now feel better about my daughter being owned by Smiley (but he actually seems to think his name is Annoying, he answers to it).

I also feel better about being owned by David Crockett Kirby, Cat of the Wild Frontier. His name is longer than he is, but he outweighs it quite handily.

And I understand now why my mother giggles when I talk about my dog. We got Hunter (named and surrendered to a shelter), and he was lonely, so we went looking for company for him. When we got Dusty, I thought for a little while about changing her name to Gatherer, and she has displayed some herding traits so it wouldn't have been too unfitting....
Jan. 28th, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
Love your article, my favorite two cats of my childhood were Enoch, a long sleek black cat and Chaos, a cute black kitten who also grew up long and sleek.
Jan. 28th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
Black cats are the ones that break your heart. Blake, my first cat, was black, as was the much missed Petronius. Euclid, while black is too Neurotic to be any cat-color. he's just... odd. I also have a soft spot for marmelades -- our greatly lamented Pixel being one of them. Weird no not have one them at the moment.
Jan. 31st, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
Cat names

My five cats (so far — gimme a break, I was a late bloomer) were Vashti (Persian, "Beauty" but she was Siamese), Yeshimbra ("chickpea" in Amharic), Radar (for the ears), Kaleo ("voice" or "herald" in Hawai'ian) and Ali'i ("Noble" in Hawaiian.)
Feb. 6th, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
Re: Cat names
Sounds like a noble effort at er... catching up with felinomania. And those sound like lovely names. Our Pixie should have called Kaleo since he was "speaker to the humans" able to approximate human speech for those essentials: water and food. (So it was wawa and ooo(click) but the other cats would pile behind him, and the humans came through. :)
Jan. 31st, 2010 05:41 am (UTC)
Do nicknames count?
We (DH and I) have 2 male, neutered cats Ratchet, a buff or orange (it's a weird color between the 2) and white cat, and Shadow, mostly black, with a few white hairs on chest. Ratchet came with that name, his litter was found in the wall of a tool shop and the rescuers gave them all 'tool' names. Shadow got named that because we needed a name to make an appointment with the vet and couldn't think of a better name. But sometimes Ratchet gets called Fat'n'lazy and Shadow Yowls-a-lot. DH like SIR Yowls-a-lot better. Ratchet is of course, fat and lazy, and smart too, which means in this case lazy is a good thing. Shadow is LOUD, he looks and sounds like a Siamese except for the fact he's black. Of course sometimes both get called Buddy (if they're good) or B*st*rd (if they're really bad).
Feb. 6th, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
Re: Do nicknames count?
you know, of course, it's perfectly okay to change their names? Our poor Euclid, when he came to us was named "Tootsy" We call him that and he gives us a baneful "what, do I embarrass you?" look. :)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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