Naming, like gender, is a fluid thing. Let’s take gender first. Each male-bodied person has feminine traits as well as masculine, just as every female-bodied person has both sets too. This ever-changing combo contributes to each person’s glorious individuality.
So it is with names: Each one of us is a freaky mix. Every Henry might also be a Hank. Every Margaret, a Maggie or Peggy. Every Katherine, a Kat, Kathy, or Kate. See also: Bex, Jim, J.J., Abe, Flo, Russ, and Em. Then come nicknames, which can be cute and colorful (Oakland A’s center fielder Covelli Crisp is called “Coco”), and pseudonyms, which can be mysterious and stealthy (graffiti artist and political activist Banksy has a legal name, but few people know what it is).
Since I was a kid I’ve spat multiple names onto people I know. For example, I call Daphne lots of things — Gorgeous, Baby, Meow-Meow, Love-Love, Beautiful — and lots of other things that happen to fit the moment (Birthday Girl, for example). My friend Rob, who’s quite tall and thin, I call Skeletor. My friend and college roommate Jim, who produces a long-running burlesque show in San Francisco, is now Kingfish. My brother is The Gobbler. Some nicknames have also stuck to me, including Squeaky (long story), Flipper (for my dolphin impersonation), and Felix (for Felix the Cat).
Speaking of cats, they’re nickname magnets, for cryin’ out loud. Every cat I’ve lived with has carried at least three our four “main” nicknames in addition to scores of “situational” ones, and they were all in a near-constant state of rotation depending on moods and actions.
Here are some of the oddest and most colorful I’ve given the cats in my life.
Captain Whiskers is one name Daphne and I call Thomas — and the above illustration is from a contest we had on Catster when people competed to have a cat made into a superhero. Thomas also goes by House Tiger (when he’s inside) and Yard Tiger (when he’s out back with us).
Daphne and I saw the film LIfe of Pi on a long flight a few months ago, and in that movie we met the big tiger named Richard Parker. When we got home it wasn’t long before I continued the tiger theme and came up with Thomas Parker.
This is the first of what I call “situational nicknames.” These are the ones that fit whatever a cat is doing or what he looks like. Here’s another:
Some situational nicknames are long than others.
This one takes a little phonetic explaining. I’m a writer and editor, so I love to mess around with words and sounds. In high school, for example, a group of friends and I would call each other by our names spelled backward. (My last name is great for this — srewoB, pronounced SREE-wahb.) Years ago, I came up with a formula for transposing consonants in certain words to make “alternate versions.”
Take the word Bunny, for example. Trade the “B” and the “N’ sounds, and you get nuBBy. Kitty, similarly, becomes tiKKy. (When I explained this to Catster star Angie Bailey, she replied, “That’s liSSy.” YES!)
Anyway, the gorgeous Russian Blue in the photo below lived with my friend Tracy for years. His name was Perry, which, of course, by the above formula makes rePPy. Often when I talked to Tracy by phone she would end our conversations with something such as, “And rePPy, he’s still a tiKKy.”
Just before Tracy’s birthday one year she sent me the above picture of rePPy. At the time, I worked at a small alt-newsweekly near Oakland called the East Bay Express. I did a lot of page layout there and had access to all the templates, so when I got that photo I spent a little time at the end of a workday and made a joke cover for an issue about rePPy, and I gave it to Tracy for her birthday. (Notice I use one of my own nicknames, Felix, as a byline.)
The last time I visited her house, it was framed and on her wall.
Meet Tiger Lily. One of her main nicknames, keeping with the above-mentioned phonetic scramble, was Tiger tiKKy. The first post I wrote for Catster was about Tiger Lily, who also was known as Butterball, Little Dum-Dum (“It’s a good thing you’re cuter than you are stupid,” I’d sometimes tell her), Chubina, and The Little.
This is Cleo, who lived with Daphne and I and Tiger Lily, and just because the structure of her name didn’t lend itself to “The tiKKy Treatment,” I could still goof it up by adding some letters and moving things around. Hence “Cleo” becomes “Creole.” Cleo was also known as Cleocatra and Cleopetra as well as Fruff (she was a longhair tuxedo Norwegian Forest Cat), Big Fruff (she had really long fur), and Meanie (for her regular morning head-bops delivered to the hapless Tiger tiKKy).
Petra is a big cat. I lived with her for a couple of years. She weighs about 19 pounds. She’s an American Curl with a purr as loud as a dumptruck and the tenacity of a glacier.
One of the nicknames I gave her was Csonka, after Hall of Fame NFL running back Larry Csonka of the Miami Dolphins. Csonka didn’t bob and weave and dance to gain yardage like some smaller, spry running backs do. See, Csonka was about 12 feet tall and weighed as much as Mount Rushmore. When he ran, he held the ball with both arms, put his head down, and pretty much ran over — or through — anyone who stood between him and the goal line. Here’s an image of him.
This nickname is oddly appropriate, now that I think of it. If a cat were to play for any NFL team, don’t you think it would be one that had tons of fish around to help train its mascot — a dolphin? Oh, and the name of the team’s mascot in the 1960s and ’70s? Flipper, one of my nicknames. And so we’ve come full circle.
What wacky names have you given cats? How about other people? Tell me in the comments!
Cat Dandy says nicknames are playful and make cats happy:
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster and Dogster.