My Cat and My Niece Nearly Had the Same Name


When my sister told me she was pregnant, here’s how she framed it: "I need to tell you something, but I think you’re going to be mad."

But then she told me and it was all good. A baby! The first one in my life, really. I’d never so much as baby-sat, and I never had little cousins or anything. In some ways I was 30 by the time I turned 12, so it’s all been briefcases and business meetings for most of my life. A baby! I was definitely down with being a part of this new thing.

As I watched my sister become more, uh, puffy, I was increasingly offended that she and my brother-in-law were refusing to release the name of the forthcoming person. Really offended! But they weren’t budging. No one knew the name. My sister explained that she just wanted to hand us all the baby and say, "this is Sagemuffin DeLorean," so that if someone disagreed with the name, they were really insulting a BABY, not just the idea of a future baby. It made some sense. I was still annoyed.

When my sister was about six months along, I was given news of a kitten. A kitten that needed my help. A kitten that had been found under a car, screaming for its life, probably only 4 weeks old.

"We thought it was black, but that’s just because it was so dirty. We cleaned it off and found it was gray," I was told.

A gray cat. My boyfriend at the time had always wanted a gray cat, and here was one fresh out of the oven. It took a little arm twisting to convince him that we could handle three cats again. We were down to two after my beloved Dapple died the previous summer.

"But it’s gray," was really all I had to say. The next thing I know we’re meeting a woman in the parking lot of a Tex-Mex restaurant on a freeway, like we were buying drugs. She produced a cat carrier and a bag of toys. Inside the cat carrier, a scrawny, wiry kitten; gray, as was the deal.

The kitten said nothing on the way home. He and I said nothing in happy anticipation of having a new life in our house once again. Dreaming of all of the silly messes, all of the tiny teeth impressions on our hands, the many battles with blankets to come.

The kitten didn’t disappoint. She was a spitfire. We got her home and she started climbing up our shirts to sit on our shoulders. We started to discuss names immediately, but it wasn’t a high priority. I’d just started a new job and was trying to settle into a new routine and, you know, life. Life just gets in the way of naming a kitten.

A whole month later and the kitten wasn’t named. She had proven herself to be the worst kitten on the planet at that point, though, which probably delayed the naming further. She was attacking the older cats — Juniper and Cheetoe — without reserve. She was eating all the food. She loves water, so she would get in the sink while we were brushing our teeth, and she once jumped into the toilet on account of it was there.

She wanted to watch from the counter when we made food. She wanted to eat anything that smelled like meat, so she would worm her way into our laps and try to get her head above the plate. You never left a plate unattended. I made the mistake of turning my back on a tub of margarine for a second, turned around to find her little face in the tub, her little tongue traveling across the buttery surface. It was all fairly endearing until we found how much she enjoyed pushing glasses off of counters.

A month of not having a name for the kitten was embarrassing. Meanwhile, the submissions were rolling in: Jermajesty, The Grey Album, Sadness Bowl Jr., Little Ninja, etc. I don’t know why we didn’t feel compelled to name this cat; she was filled to the brim with personality. It should have been simple.

But if I am being honest, I think he and I got the kitten because we needed something. Our relationship, a many-year-long thing, had been disintegrating. The kitten was a distraction. The naming of the kitten was a bigger distraction. We needed all the distractions we could get. And what do you name the tiny mammal that is keeping your relationship together, anyway? It’s an impossible thing to name.

One night I got tired of the discussion and said, "That’s it. We’re naming her Olive." It was a name we’d thrown around. We were known cocktail lovers, and Juniper is so-named for her desert colors and our love of gin. Olive fit nicely. When I floated the name past my sister in passing once, she said, "Yeah, I don’t know. Is that really a cat name?" But the boyfriend agreed. I put it on Facebook immediately, attempting to quash any more talk of naming her Jermajesty.

I believe it was the same night when I received an email from my brother-in-law:

"Yeah, the kid’s name is Olive. Thought you should know."

I laughed. How could we possibly have landed on the same name for a kitten and a person? But it was lovely, in a way — proof of a continued unspoken connection with my sister even now, as adults. I then had to tell my baby-loathing boyfriend. It didn’t go well.

But it guided us toward the perfect name: Caper.

Now Olive is 1 year old and is the silliest child you’ll ever meet. And I am one year out of a nine-year relationship. Caper lives with me, recently ruined another tub of buttery spread, and is the silliest cat you’ll ever meet.

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