A Very Purrculiar Practice: A Cat by Any Other Name ...
Copyright 1997, Sarah Hartwell

"Stravinsky I can manage, but please don't name anything Tchaikovsky as my spelling won't stand up to it," sighed the long suffering vet as he typed details into his computer. "It was much better when you named them all after flowers, even if the printout looked like a herd of cattle with Buttercup, Daisy and the likes."

"You were lucky Sylvia didn't do the flower phase," I told him, "Or we'd have ended up with Euonymus and Endymion."

"So far this week I've had Mozart, Ravel and Dvorak. I only managed Gorecki because I saw the CD in Our Price last week, and I really didn't appreciate getting one called Khachaturian," he advised me as he spelled out the cat's name "S -T-R-A-V-I-N-S-K-Y. Is that right? Is it a Y or an I at the end? Do I really care, it'll probably end up being called Fluffy anyway."

This is the problem with dealing with up to 2000 cats a year - assigning unique names so that we can keep track of who's who at the shelter. Some owners give up on the task at much lower numbers of cats. We once took in five white longhairs from a single household. All five were called Snowy because the owner found it easier than thinking up individual names. Since all had to have unique identifying names for their neutering ops and medication, we ended up with Snowdrop, Snowball, Snowflake, Snowman and Snow-use. Yes, Snow-use. We'd thought of four names and Beryl had said "'S no use, you know, I can't think of another one."

We all have our pet themes after which we name cats and this is more apparent in a shelter than a household due to the large numbers of cats dealt with. One of our literary minded helpers took to naming litters of kittens after characters in Shakespeare plays. Another, who worked part time in a florists, worked her way through the flowers then onto trees as a logical extension. Ash, Cedar and Spruce weren't too bad, but Hornbeam and Sycamore didn't sound quite right for cats. Alan the traction engine enthusiast provided us with Clayton and Shuttleworth and somewhere out in the wilds of the county was a whole feral colony named after traction engines and steam locomotives. Kris, meanwhile, was working her way through a list of past winners of the Derby and Grand National and branched out into Scottish football clubs. I was onto composers and poets.

"You remind me of that American chap who named his kids after diseases," the vet said as he stuck a thermometer under Stravinsky's tail, "His four daughters ended up as Appendicitis, Bronchitits, Laryngitis and Diptheria or something."

"So you fancy a spell of Eff-Eye-Vee, Eff-Ee-Ell-Vee and Eff-Eye-Pee?" I queried as Stravinsky tried to chew my fingers off.

"Maybe not, I see quite enough of those as it is," he admitted, "How about something from Disney? As long as it's not from the Lion King, every other kitten I see is called Pumbaa or Timon. You could buy a book of baby's names."

"Tried it," I told him, "Your predecessor suffered three iterations of that book. He eventually asked us for something more original."

"Pop stars?"

"We've got a litter of five named after the Spice Girls. It doesn't help that Elvira wants to name cats after Heavy Metal bands and Beryl is into country music. That cat with mastitis got nicknamed Dolly Parton because she had swollen mammaries."

It's hard enough trying to find original names for cats, but the public has fun with words too. The Cats Protection League mutated into the Cat Prevention League for one correspondent (very apt during a neutering campaign) while neutered regularly becomes newted, neutralised, nutrified, and spayed ends up as sprayed, splayed, spaded and shaved (the last being an understandable one since the cat does indeed come back shaved - if only it was that easy we could invest in a Ladyshave and be done with vet's bills).

"How is Elvira?" asked the vet cheerfully as he read the thermometer, "Still got that damn great bike?" In other words, he was willing to come out to the shelter on an 'emergency visit' just so long as it was on one of Elvira's days and he could run his hands over the Harley-Davidson. He was still angling for a ride on the back of the bike and a few of us had guessed that he'd like to run his hands over its owner. She had the same effect on his practice partner, who would drop everything to attend any shelter emergency - but only on certain days of the week.

"Put it this way, you're going to see a string of cats with names like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Norton and Harley," I growled, omitting to mention that she'd originally suggested Cocaine, Speed, Crack, Spliff and Ganja.

"I think a course of antibiotics will sort Stravinsky out," the vet said cheerfully, "How about some foreign names - simple foreign names?"

"You must remember the Russian Blues we called Tsar and Sacha - you insisted it was C-Z-A-R and we wanted T-S-A-R and we argued over whether Sacha had a C or an S in the middle. Then there was the Turkish Van called Ahmed, the Persian called Sinbad, but if you recall we couldn't think up anything suitable for a Somali," I reminded him. "And then you complained about the Irish names Kathleen came up with because you couldn't cope with Gaelic."

Or to be more accurate, he'd managed Maire and Siobhan but O'Suillebhainn and O'Laoghaire had caused a few hiccups in the system. We'd had pretty much the same problem with Tolkein; while Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf were no problem, the accented Elvish names weren't so easy; somehow accents hadn't been catered for on the surgery computer. The Greek, Roman, Norse and Celtic pantheons of Gods and Goddesses were more successful, although Frigga caused a few raised eyebrows. Shan, a back-to-work schemer who really wanted to be an astronomer, provided us with a list of stellar names so for a while our beleaguered vet saw a stream of cats with names such as Betelgeuse, Rigel, Altair and Andromeda; and a delightful pair of brothers, one of who had dwarfism, were appropriately dubbed Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

"I only complained about the Gaelic because you could spell it perfectly well in English. How was I to know that Kathleen was against the Anglicization of Gaelic names? I spent weeks expecting every parcel through the door to contain high explosive. And the day I let my guard down, you sent in a feral cat that left my consulting room looking like it had been in an explosion." griped the vet as he counted out a week's worth of Synulox, "I never know how to handle any of you lot from the shelter," he grumbled, (I refrained from mentioning he'd very much like to work out how to handle Elvira.) "You send me cats with names that I either can't spell or can't pronounce, then throw a fit when I ask if I can spell it the English way. For godsake don't start sending in Russian Blues with names in Cyrillic."

This was very tempting as I had done a year of Russian at High School, but good vets able to deal with cats in bulk are hard to come by.

"Tell you what," I said smiling sweetly, "If you stop complaining that the cats' names are either too unimaginative or too complicated, I'll see if I can wangle you a go on the Harley."

"Come to think of it," he said as he handed me the foil strip of tablets, "Stravinsky's not a bad name, it has an air of culture about it. How about a Mussorgsky or a Sibelius?"

Back to Main Index