edited: Saturday, August 02, 2008
By Juliet Waldron
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2008
Become a Fan
Joining the chorus of cat people with a loud meow.
Cat Names and how they get them is a long and tortuous topic, as twisted and lumpy as old street cat’s busted tail. The “owner” (or, more properly, the feline’s “host”) gives kitty a name, but as Paul Gallico told us long ago in his wonderful and heartbreaking story, "The Abandoned," kitties arrive with their own names, secret names that only cats know. It is my theory that the secret name leaks into the susceptible mind of the cat “owner” and causes a kind of sea change to occur. The original “given” name becomes something else, it transmutes, sometimes taking along some elements of the by-human-bestowed name, sometimes not.
I gave the name “Pamina” to a runt flame-point blue-eyed DSH barn-born kitten, during my extended period of Mozart-induced madness. This unwieldy name promptly morphed into “Mina,” which became in turn became “Meena,” “Meena-Moo,” and finally as just “Moo.”
At the same time, we had another barn baby who was a perfect Maine Coon of the original black and gray sort. As if Mozart weren’t enough to unhinge me, I was also reading a lot of ETA Hoffmann, so this big-eyed, darling round kitten became “Murr,” (German for “purr”) after the author’s beloved feline companion. Typical of human skill in naming, however, this cuddly being with toe feathers and a belly of fluffy buff, did not purr audibly. You could feel it by holding him, or only by putting your ear against his chest. He had that gorgeous round Maine Coon face, with neck ruff and ear feathers. After awhile, he became “Murr Face.” Then—and you can see this coming—his name became “Face,” or, if we were in a formal mood: “Face Cat.”
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with “Mittens” or “Boots,” (nor even “Fluffy”,) although I think these cats, too, have secret names, ones their owners probably won't discover. I’d like to lobby a little against giving these children of Bast names with so little meaning. I once read in a New Age magazine that cats prefer names which have initial sounds “S,” “T,” “F,” “B,” “M” and “P.” On the strength of this perhaps dubious authority, I followed the rule for many years in giving cat names. We had “Set” and “Tut” strictly following the Egyptian theme. We had Bast the Beautiful, a ferocious black female who chased squirrels up trees, caught them and then rode them down to their deaths. We had “Sam,” Siamese, of course, but of the apple-headed large-bodied variety. His full name was “Mahasamatman” after the character in "The Lord of Light," a 60’s S/F by Roger Zelazny.
Some nice people in Tennesee let us have him, when he began to prefer coming into our house. They’d picked him up as a kitten behind a Mexican restaurant. This seal point boy ate those dinners we used to have in the eighties of corn chips covered with chili, salsa, and cheese. You could make him a plate starting with the chip and burger layer, add the salsa, sour cream and guacamole, and he’d just eat everything, straight to the bottom.
When I was young and we were living rather hand-to-mouth, I was not the best cat mommy. We lived in a big old farm house surrounded by fields of corn, potatoes, soybeans and tobacco. (We rejoiced when the potatoes went away, but as long as you've got tobacco, everything remains drenched in pesticide.) I’m sure there were litter box cleanliness issues at this house, which always cause trouble when cats and humans co-exist.
In those days we had Daphne and Dahlia, whose names conspicuously did not follow the rule. I now look upon this as a common human mistake in naming feline sisters. D & D were gray striped tigers, one long haired of the fluff-and-bone kind; the other was a real plain Jane, as much as a cat can be. The sisters had a feral father. Perhaps they simply didn’t get the genetic stuff for domestic life. For years they left the house in the spring, only to return in the autumn, showing up for a day or so at a time, and only moving in for an extended nap after the snow flew. They were glossy on a diet of insects, birds, rats, bunnies and mice, the standard farm-field predator fare.
There’s an old adage about every life “needing 9 cats.” You need at least nine, IMHO, because every one of them is a stand-out individual. The older I get, and the more I learn about them, the better life with them goes. As the aliens say on "Star Trek" “They are beings; they have spirit.”