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Alastair. Photography Annie Butler Shirreffs.

What’s Mew at Catster: How I Named My Cats

Coming up with cat names doesn’t have to be daunting! Here’s how I named my cats, and how some of our readers came up with their cats' names, too.

Annie Butler Shirreffs  |  Dec 1st 2017

Naming cats can be a serious endeavor. Picking just the right one is tricky. For me, sometimes it takes hours or days of research and thinking. Some cats are named after favorite literary characters or authors. Some are named after situations. And some names just pop into my head.

The process is different for everyone, but here’s how I named some of my feline friends.

How I Named My Current Cats


Agatha the cat.

Agatha. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

Here’s an example of a name just popping into my head. We enjoy old-timey names, especially those that are Southern or British. We adopted Agatha when she was 3 months old. Her coloring and markings make her look very prim and proper, so the name was a perfect fit. People automatically assumed we named her after Agatha Christie, which we didn’t. As a joke, we made her middle name Christine.


Alastair. Photography Annie Butler Shirreffs.

Alastair. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

This is my favorite British name. When we first found Alastair as a feral kitten, I was convinced he was a girl, so I called him Alice during the couple of days I was trying to lure him out from under our neighbor’s car. Once we caught him and discovered that he was a boy, we just lengthened it to Alastair. His middle name is Moody because, as a “recovering feral,” he can be pretty moody — one minute he’s hiding in the closet and the next he’s flirting with us in the living room. Alastair Moody is also one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter series.



Mathilda. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

I’ve always loved this name. And the name is sentimental for my husband. When he was a kid, his mother had a dressmaker’s dummy that was kind of rickety and tended to sway back and forth — they called it Waltzing Matilda, which is the name of a 19th century Australian song. And yes, we sing it to her all the time. (You’ll notice that one of our readers was also inspired by the song!) We also love literary names, so her middle name is Jean Louise, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Our Mathilda is a bit of a tomboy and always getting herself into trouble, so it’s a perfect fit.



Jack. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

Compared to our other cats, poor Jack got shortchanged in the name department. We found him alone and crying on a street corner when he was a kitten. We weren’t planning to keep him, but we couldn’t find him a home, and the longer he was with us, the more we fell in love with him. I suggested calling him Jack, because we didn’t know jack about him. But we made up for it with his middle name: Bartholomew.              

How I named my cats of the past


When I was a teenager, my family took in a stray black cat. It turned out she was pregnant, and she gave birth to four kittens in our laundry room. We found homes for all of them, except the runt, which I insisted we keep. Being the weird and surly teenager I was, I named her Runt. It was simple and to the point. My family tried to soften the name a little by calling her Runt Baby or R.B., but she was always Runt to me — and the sweetest little runt you could ever meet.


As a young teenager, my husband had a cat named Salmon. I always thought his name was because of his dark pink nose but later found out that when my husband first found Salmon as a kitten, all they had in the house to feed him was some canned salmon. The kitten devoured it, rubbed his head inside the can and ended up smelling like fish for a week. Salmon seemed the only appropriate name.

Owen and Zelda

These were the first cats my husband and I had as a couple. Owen was a wild and weird little kitten — a polydactyl, a talker, an ankle biter. A friend called him “charmingly odd.” I just said it was because he was misunderstood. One of my favorite books at the time was John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. He was misunderstood, too, so we named our cat after him.

Zelda was partly named after Zelda Fitzgerald and partly because I just love the name. To me, a Zelda was someone who was flamboyant and enthusiastic and loved life. Our little Zelda, however, was not. She was a shy, nervous and quiet kitty her entire life. She never quite lived up to her name, but I like to think that there was a little excited lover of life somewhere in her.

Foster Favorites                         

Naming foster kittens is one of my favorite things. I outdid myself long before we officially started fostering kittens, when a litter of three was born in our backyard to one of the neighborhood feral cats. We took them in so they wouldn’t end up feral like their mom. I kept trying to come up with clever trio names, but nothing seemed right. Then one day while walking to my car in the office parking lot, it hit me: Edgar, Allan and Poe. Of course, Edgar ended up being a girl, so we just stuck Ms. in front of it. And she and Poe found homes first, so people couldn’t figure out why he had named a kitten Allan, until we explained he was part of a set.

The first two kittens we fostered through our shelter were immediately named Smokey and Bandit by my husband. I’ve never seen the movie (and don’t really care to), but my husband was so pleased with himself, I couldn’t really say no.

Here’s how I named some some other foster favorites:

Olive. She wasn’t an official foster. My husband found her in a neighbor’s yard and brought her home. She was with us for several days before we turned her over to a rescue organization. She had horrible mange that resulted in huge scabs all over her tiny little face. I used olive oil to loosen them up a bit.

Bertie and Rupert.

Bertie and Rupert. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

Bertie and Rupert. You really can’t get more British than that!

Grimm and Boo. We got these guys in October and, since Halloween is my favorite holiday, it seemed appropriate.


Ginsberg. Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shirreffs.

Ginsberg. This cute tuxedo had a little black spot on his chin that I thought made him look like a beatnik.

How our readers named their cats

I’m clearly not the only one who puts a lot of thought into names. Here are some fun stories from our readers:

Annie and Cleo.

Annie and Cleo.

As a child, I grew up a dog person. We had two dogs my father named after famous queens — Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. When I became a father, our family adopted two kittens. We named them consistent with this tradition — Queen Antoinette and Queen Cleopatra (Annie and Cleo for short). —Kevin Brown

I named my cat Squitten (squirrel + kitten) because she looks and acts like a squirrel. She’ll puff up her tail, run around like crazy and jerk around quickly when she’s spooked — and sometimes just for fun. —Laura Wilson



We have a cat we named Lionel because we thought he looked lionish with all of his fluffy hair. —KaylaAnn

I adopted a 5-month-old kitty from a shelter where she was in danger of being euthanized. She didn’t like to be held and wasn’t particularly pretty. I named her Flower and then Lily Pad, among other “pretty” names. She would answer to nothing until, one day, my daughter said, “Well, we might as well call her Legal Pad because she’s never going to answer to anything.” Sure enough, when my daughter liltingly called out, “Legal Pad!”, kitty came. She’s therefore now known as Legal Pad! —Ann Barnett



I was walking to my car after work when I heard plaintive meowing coming from a tree. I saw a cat there and thought I would try to coax him down. However, when he got to a limb where I could lift him down I discovered he was just skin and bones. I could feel his little ribs, he wasn’t fixed and he had no collar. He started to follow me, crying and, of course, I ended up taking him home. Because I found him in a tree he is named after Alice in Wonderland’s grinning Cheshire Cat. —Tess Schaufler 

Matilda Dandelion.

Matilda Dandelion.

She was a rescue at my vet’s clinic, and the staff called her Dandelion because she was growing like a weed. When I met her, I was still caring for my cat, Beatrix Potter, who had cancer, and I wasn’t considering a new adoption just yet. Later that day, I was outside, and a dandelion fluff blew across the parking lot and landed squarely on my chest. That evening, Beatrix took a downhill turn and passed away two days later. I took it as a sign that this little Dandelion was meant to be adopted by me, and I kept her name to honor fate. The first time I played with her, she was waltzing around the room chasing a toy, and I recalled the song Waltzing Matilda. So, I named her Matilda Dandelion. —Annie N.



My adorable Munchkin cat is obviously short and looks like a walking loaf of bread, so Shortnin’ Bread (or Shortnin’ as we call her) seemed like a great name for her! —Judy Almy

Our cat named himself. Two days after we adopted him, my husband and I were discussing what to name him. I was reading a list of “cool cat names” to my husband, while the cat slept in a chair nearby. When I said, “How about Duke?” to my husband, the cat woke up, lifted his head and answered with a meow. My husband looked at him and said, “Really? You want to be named Duke?” The cat looked up again and did a double meow. So, we named him Duke. —Kim H.



While visiting Florence, Alabama, I enjoyed eating at Zaxby’s restaurant. I ate there on the patio daily during my two-week visit. Every time, I noticed a very small tiger-striped kitten running around under cars and shrubs — he was full of himself. On several occasions, I asked locals if they had seen this kitten before. Most said, “Yes. He lives in the shrubs. He’s going to get hit by a car someday.” The odd thing was that the kitten didn’t approach anyone but me. As my stay in Florence ended, I thought about that crazy little kitten and what the locals had said. I decided he had chosen me. I scooped him up and got a clean bill of health from the local vet. The little guy traveled 1,800 miles to his new home in El Paso, Texas, to start a new life. I named him Zaxs (middle initial B). —Debbie Pietzsch

I have a different sense of humor, so I named my first kitty Orange Roughy. When nobody got the joke, I shortened it to Ruffy. For those of you who might not get the joke either, an orange roughy is a fish. Ruffy is not a fish. He isn’t orange, either. —Dorothy Baroud



I’ve always been a huge Star Trek fan, so I named my cat James Tiberius Kirkcat after Captain Kirk from the show. We call him Ti for short. Here he is in the mother ship. —Delaney Kirk



Cindy is named after Cindy Crawford because of the beauty mark on her face. She is certainly a model as you can see from her purrfect pose! —Pamela Palmer

Tell us: What are your cats’ names? How did you name your cat?

Stay tuned for more from Senior Editor Annie Butler Shirreffs on’s What’s Mew at Catster column and on social media with #WhatsMewatCatster. 

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