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.