the naming of cats

“Don’t give it a name unless you’re going to adopt it,” was the wise advice from a friend when I told him about the young, skinny, grey cat which was merodeando la casa sizing us up as prospective family.

Wise advice. Except it got me thinking about cats and cat names, of course.

The first feline I can remember was Twinkie, my grandmother’s black and white short-hair. I can’t remember much about either Granny or the cat, except that she always wore an apron and chain-smoked, and her little terraced house with the narrow tunnel alleyway between it and the neighbours smelled of cats and cat food. I don’t know whether that would have been tinned cat food, or whether it was fish heads, but it’s a smell which belongs to my childhood holidays.

Other cats of that era, the ones in fiction, tended to be called by sibilant names that addressed their physical appearance: Smudges, Spot, Sox… Then there were Jenny and Thomasina, Marmaduke, and Orlando the Marmalade Cat. Macavity and the other Eliot cats came later, but were no less loved.

“Puss” is far too ordinary for a self-respecting cat; I’ve always thought Pushkin and Caitlin serve well as generic names for the cat in the street – or should that be the Cat on the Walsall Omnibus?

Friends have had cats whose names were usually either literary or witty, or occasionally both. There was Tucker – so called because he had a white bib – and PG, a colourpoint persian who had tips the colour of tea. (He was named well before his owners discovered his habits with birds which made parental guidance a requirement.)

Waverley was a tabby with waverly stripes all over who came “as a boon and a blessing” to an owner old enough to remember the advertising slogan. Pathos, Porthos and Artemis, the three mouse-getters, seldom responded to their classical names while Milly, Moll and Mandy were a bundle of mischief as kittens and grew up into three full-sized trouble makers.

Black Forest Gato was so named by a friend who’d been studying Spanish, and it was a Spaniard who once told me, “Tengo un gato que se llama como tú.

Confused, but flattered, I asked “¿Cómo yo?

No. Se llama Comotú.

Then there was a Spanish child I taught English to years ago. The family had a wonderful long-haired white cat, like the one who used to star in the carpet adverts. I asked the girl what its name was and she looked at me as if I was crazy. It was just el gato, and she had neither interest in it nor affection for it.

The same child showed me a new doll she’d been given for a birthday present. Again I asked what the doll’s name was. “No sé,” she said, before having the bright idea of searching for the label in case the manufacturers had provided a name.

Thinking of the strings of names my peluches had when I was a child, and the way I automatically invent names or motes for any neighbour or animal I see regularly – like ‘Dusty’ the shetland pony who I feed carrots to en route to the village – perhaps this preoccupation with names is more indicative of a problem on my part rather than on hers.

Which meant I was determined not to nombrar el gatito, at least until I was sure of my intentions. But he’s gris, he’s skinny as a breadstick, it’s impossible not to follow the logic through to its conclusion.

So Grissini is now named, though, like many of the local roads, not fully adopted.

Of course an “adopted road” is like a “made up road”. And there’s always the possibility that Grissini – along with the other characters on this blog – is made up.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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