“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet uttered those famous words in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Roughly translated, Juliet tells Romeo that a name is artificial and meaningless, and that she loves the person, not the name. A far less poetic line, and one of my dad’s favorites, was, "You can call me any name you want, just don’t call me late to dinner." Like father, like son. I never miss a chance for a good meal.
These lines make me wonder: How do we choose the names of our cats, and is it really important what we name them?
For me, choosing names for each of my feral cats was relatively straightforward. I would ask each cat verbally what name he or she would like to be called, and I accepted the first name that came to me. Some of the names seemed logical. Momma Kitty was the first to arrive with her two kittens. Miss Cali (now Cal Cal) was so named because she is a Calico cat. Rusty is Rusty because he is the color of rust and has golden, almost rust colored eyes.
Another name that was chosen, or perhaps given to me, by the cats was Miss Kitty. My wife initially named this cat Skitty Bitty because she was a small kitten compared with her brother, and she seemed somewhat skittish when she arrived. However, we noticed over time that she became even more skittish the longer we called her Skitty Bitty. I thought I was transferring the image that she should be skittish in order to match her name. I know that might sound silly to some people, but once her name was changed to a more positive sounding name, Miss Kitty, her demeanor changed as well. She is now one of the sweetest, most confident, and most loving kitties in our group.
Our first feral cat was a wonderful male orange tabby that I named Charles. When I told my neighbor who helps us take care of the cats that I named him Charles, she said that was fitting because he was very regal and proud looking. I concurred, not having the heart to tell her I named him after a professional basketball player who was very round and had a big head (literally as well as figuratively).
Another relevant example came from a man I learned about on one of my lost-animal cases. As a child, he had a male orange-and-white tabby named Sam. There was no particular reason for the name. He just liked it and believed the cat looked like a Sam. Thirty years later, a stray cat kept appearing at his doorstep. He started feeding the cat outside and eventually brought the cat inside to stay with him. The cat was a male orange-and-white tabby that looked remarkably like the cat he grew up with. So, naturally, he named the cat Sam.
After several days had passed, he spotted a lost cat sign on a post at the end of his street. The picture looked like the cat he had just befriended. He called the number on the poster, and a lady came to see whether it was her missing cat. It was. She reached down and picked-up the cat and caressed his head and neck. The man told her of how her cat arrived at his house, how he had a cat that looked very similar when he was young, and that he started calling the cat Sam. She was fascinated — and then told him the cat’s name was Sam.
So it seems that we name our cats based on several different factors including how they look, how they act, and whether they remind us of cats in our past. In my case, I let them choose their own names. Most cats don’t really seem to care what their names are as long as we provide them food, shelter, and love. Most are happy with the names chosen for them because the name makes their human companions happy.
Then, of course, come the nicknames we give our cats. In my case, I’ve given numerous nicknames to each of the cats in my care based on how they act or mischief they’ve gotten into. When I was growing up, I was told that the more nicknames one has, the more you are loved. I totally agree with that statement, as long as they are positive nicknames.
So, like Shakespeare’s Juliet, you might also believe a name is artificial and meaningless. And you might call your cat by any name you want. How have you named your cats? On what do you base that? How many nicknames do your cats have? Have any of your cats, over time, shared a name or nickname?