Pet Names

Smitty the Kitty, Schimellpenick, Lady Jane Grey, Calypso, Merlin and Chief Inspector Morse…Yes, those are names of the CATS that have scampered, snuggled, and purred into and through my life. I am responsible for the names of the last four.

Deciding on the name of a cat, dog, snake, etc. is an interesting process. It reveals a great deal about a person—or a character in fiction. I just read a historical mystery and the detective has a black cat named Thunder. It’s a cool name for an indoor/outdoor hunter with a sense of entitlement and a favorite spot by the fire. I’m working on a short story with a puppy named Juanita Gris (in honor of the Cubist Juan Gris). The meaning of the name choice will, I hope, resonate with the human characters in the story.

With a few exceptions, we don’t choose our own name. But we do choose the names of our animal companions. There is often a story behind the name choice. My family was not looking for a second cat, when a skinny, tortoiseshell kitten was left on the front seat of a neighbor’s car. Smitty, our beautiful all white, longhaired cat, was not excited at the prospect of a housemate. But the kitten needed a home and… she was named after my father’s Dutch cigars because she looked like a cigar—Schimellpenick.

A few years later, I was suffering through geometry and the teacher announced that he had a litter of kittens in need of home. “I’ll give an ‘A’ to anyone who takes a cat.” I didn’t get the promised grade, but I got Lady Jane Grey—an exceptional creature, named toward the end of my childhood obsession with Tudor history.

After college, when I got my solo first apartment, Calypso came into my life. She was a formidable, calico—imperial, majestic and domineering. Shortly after she tried to kill my boyfriend (she was right, he was a loser), the vet suggested I give her someone to love, someone other than ME.

We adopted an orange tabby. He was a spunky, little, runt of a litter born in the famous Fulton Street Fish Market. To make him the adopted son of the minor Greek goddess, Calypso, I gave him a powerful name—MERLIN. I figured a major wizard was a match for the minor goddess.

Merlin was a magical creature. He turned cat haters and people afraid of cats into cat lovers. And having a younger man in her life, kept Calypso going for a long, long time. He died a few years after her death and I was a wreck. I was peppered with cat advice—get a kitten now, wait until you are done mourning, wait until the New Year, wait, don’t wait….

In the end, I ran with my gut. I told everyone I knew that I was looking for an adult cat in need of a home. Before I went to meet the young, male rescue cat in his temporary lodgings (a doggie day care/animal boarding/spa in Chelsea) I contemplated Sherlock and Morse as names. At this time my mom had a cat named Miss Marple and I decided that detective name was the right way to go. I took one look at the full-grown, but still youthful Morse and knew he would never be a prickly Sherlock and would always be a philosophical, romantic, Chief Inspector Morse after Colin Dexter’s detective.

Are you willing to share an animal naming story? Please tell all! And we’ll see what it reveals about YOU.

Morse looking contemplative.

Morse looking contemplative.


  1. -grin- So that’s where Morse came from! I wish I could share some witty or at least mildly interesting story about my animals and their names, but I don’t have any. The names of all my cats and dogs just ‘came to me’ and stuck. Oddly enough, the same thing seems to happen with my characters. Some correlation between the sound and their personalities perhaps? No idea. :/

    • Candy Korman

      Really no idea? Um… maybe it’s all subconscious. Now that’s an interesting thought.

      I tend to sweat a great deal over character names, looking for the right age, ethnicity, family history, etc. in each name. Makes me crazy! I used to use an old rolodex from the office and play mix & match with last names and first names. Now, I research research research… With Cats, for me, there has always been a reason. But then, my father named the family car so I come from a naming family.

  2. I gave my Australian Shepherd the name of Speckles. Decidedly not original 😉 Then I named the cattle dog I have now Zoey after the actress Zoey Deschanel. But at the dog park, the name Zoey is one of the most popular. There as my cat Whorfy after the Star Trek character. My cat who died last year at age 16 was Troxel. That was the name on his paperwork at the shelter, and it was cool so I kept it. My cocker spaniel named Rambo was the complete opposite of that name, but I was a kid and liked Stallone’s movies. What a fun topic. I could do on 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      I LOVE the stories and the names!
      Especially Troxel. That’s a gem of a cat name and the story feels like a random lucky strike. It could have been the name of Rx drug, but it’s still so CAT-ish.

  3. As a pug person (I’ve had 3 now), it’s always a lot of fun to come up with names that suit a pug’s unique disposition. My first was Ozwald. He was, as my husband said, a Momma’s boy. If he wore glasses, they would have had tape on the bridge of the nose. My second was Yolanda, who was stubborn as all get out (nickname Yoyo), and my third is Phoebe (Feebs), which suits her really well as she is the squishiest of the bunch. And then there is our cat, Sushi, who is an Oriental Shorthair, so we were staying close to her roots with that one (?!?!).

    • Candy Korman

      PUGS! They are cute and deserve cute names.

      Dog breeds seem, from this cat person’ point-of-view, to have distinct personality components. Of course the individual dog has an individual aspects, too. But pugs are just so adorable. There’s one in my neighborhood that just screams, “I”m Napoleon!” I don’t know his actual name, but he’s the character that takes up more space then his body. A big spirit in a little frame. Gotta love that about pugs! A large (very large) French Mastiff lived in my building for many years. Her name was Marlene—like Marlene Dietrich. On the surface the name and the jowly face didn’t seem to match but…She seemed like a character out of a black & white movie so it fit.