Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Naming of Cats

Yesterday I picked up my new kitten.  She’s pretty young to be out on her own (just six or seven weeks), but I’m glad to have her this little.  My other cat was already about six months old when I got him, and he’s always been shy because of that.  This little one has already adopted me as mom and mews piteously when I put her in her crate. 

Anyway, the necessity of naming the new pet has been on my mind since she was born and I decided to adopt her. 

Do these endless eyes say 'shoes' to you?
I had several options to think about.  Among cat lovers in my area, you see, there’s a tendency to name cats after footwear.  A family friend named their cats Boots and Shoes.  An old classmate of mine dubbed hers Sneakers.  So my brother and I discussed the name ‘Flip-flop,’ which we thought would be a hilarious commentary on the trend (cats as shoes doesn’t make much sense, you must admit). 

However, Flip-flop is sort of an awkward name, so we started considering the idea of naming her after a wacky philosopher. One of the family cats when we were kids proudly bore the name of Hobbes.  His namesake was the cartoon character, but anyone who knows their Calvin and Hobbes will be able to tell you that the tiger is named after the philosopher.  A famous quote of his is that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ – which seems to be the outlook of a predator like a cat. 

Cats, also, however, are well known for their private belief in their divinity. 

They’ve never quite forgotten that in Egypt they were worshipped as familiars of the goddess Bastet.  Since this is the case, it seemed suitable to look for a name that referenced their old status.  Hegel was an option, because he taught that the progress of the world would culminate in its divinization.  Pursuing a different tack, I could have gone with Nietzsche, since all cats are nihilists and believe in the supremacy of their will (the name is hard to spell for veterinarians, though…).  I thought of Hume, too, who believed all knowledge is sensual.  All of these had their appeal, but none were quite right

She walks like she remembers her godhead
My brother at last suggested the philosopher Spinoza, whose basic premise seems to have been that Nature and God are the same.  As cats certainly seem to believe that feline nature is divine, the name was perfect.  My little kitten would be named Spinoza.  Moreover, the second time I saw her, when she was big enough to have a personality, somehow the name stuck. 

The several weeks which I spent debating all this reminded me how much I love to choose names.

All those who are writers know the challenge of coming up with an almost endless amount of suitable names – not to mention the necessity of titling books, stories and poems.  Non-writers probably know the challenge from their own pets and even from the simple obligation to label things for organizational purposes.  It can be hard to come up with just the right words with which to identify something. 

And yet the process is enjoyable.  We like to be able to sum up something in just a word or two.  It’s a good feeling to no longer refer to ‘the kitten I’ll be adopting in a few weeks’ or ‘the novel I’m working on right now’, but to mention ‘Spinoza’ and ‘House of Mirrors’ (or what have you), simply and directly. 

Spinoza deigns to attack my shoes!
In the biblical book of Genesis, not to mention Kipling’s Just So Story, How the Alphabet Was Made, the texts refer to the joy of discovery and solution which comes when someone is allowed to name all the unknowns.  Adam has the job of naming everything he sees; the father and daughter in the tale are overflowing with excitement to define sounds by a letter name.  I feel the same excitement when I know that I have the right title or the right character name, or the right way to address a wee kitten. 

I’m sure other people share my enjoyment.  I’d love to hear your stories of how you came up with an important name for a pet or a character (even a child!).  


  1. lovely post Chiara! your kitten looks so lovely - Spinoza just works for her....

  2. I'm not all that good with remembering the names of actors, but I just read that someone (I think an actor from the show Criminal Minds) explained how he got his name - Shermar. (Or something very much like that.) It was the first halves of his parents names combined.

    There is a sense of satisfaction of naming a poem or story with the right title. I name things after I write them. I seem to pull the name out of thin air. But it always works. Not giving too much away, but still being a part of it. I know some writers start with a title. Whatever works.

    Good luck with the new kitten, Spinoza! :)

    1. I sometimes start with a title, and sometimes find the title after the work is already written. I find it just depends on what kind of inspiration I'm working with. In any case, finding names for things is super fun, don't you think?

      Anyway, sorry for delaying in replying to your comment. I'm just getting back to a normal schedule after the rush of schoolwork at the end of the year!

  3. Awwww the kitty is so cute!

    When I adopted my dog, he had the name Knox. I was planning on re-naming him, mostly because I am from the same neighborhood as Amanda Knox and I got sick of people of asking me if I named him after that moron, but he responded so well to the name I decided to leave it.

    Good luck with the new kitty!

    1. Sometimes you just have to roll with your pet's desires if they come prenamed. We had a dog like that who was named Java when we got her. A better name would have been Toffee (based on her color) but she had definitely identified with Java. It's nice that I got to name this new kitten from scratch, as you might say :)

      Thank you for your kind comment, by the way. Sorry for the delay in responding. I've been recovering from a busy patch in work!