Picking a name is a serious matter. It’s like getting a tattoo – the action requires thought, and the more time you allow for the process, the better. I have a couple of friends who have given their children spectacularly horrid names, and I’ve never really been able to broach the subject with them (nor is it my place to). But I’m curious. Did they just not think? Did they not run through every possible eventuality? Or (and I can’t decide if this is better or worse) did the thought process move past every scenario, and the horrible name still win out in the end?
The answer is always the same in the end for me – it’s none of my business. My only job is to hope that the kids grow into their nominatives in the best possible manner. I do believe that kids grow into their names, too. I have a pretty hefty list of names I’d never choose for my own children, based on awful people I’ve met in the past. Shelby, Tina, and Christie all make it to the top of my list – all mean girls & bullies from my youth.
So far, the naming process for me has been restricted to my pets. When I was a teenager, I got my first cat of my own, a black calico kitten. After days of deliberation, I named her Auryn, after AURYN, a mystical amulet from The Neverending Story. Later, my parents adopted another kitten, an adorable white & tan tabby. I named her Frances – not sure why, now, though it’s definitely one of my favorite names. Both cats died very soon after I went to college. Auryn was run over on the highway, and Frances had severe health issues and died suddenly.
I didn’t get my first “grown up” pet until college, following a spate of unfortunate attempts at fish ownership. I’ve just never been able to keep fish alive for very long, despite (or maybe because) of my obsession with testing the water, buying the best food, keeping the tank clean but not too clean. Fish and I just aren’t meant to be – much like plants and me. I’m not allowed to have anything green and frondy in the house unless it’s made of plastic or silk. Even so, I do have one fish at the moment. His name is Sparky. The upside-down catfish is a killer (he’s eaten every tank companion I’ve provided, even the ones that are supposed to be compatible) and either a terrible drama queen or else extremely resilient. Every time I do a water change, Sparky plays dead at the bottom of the tank – hence naming him after the electric chair.
Matthew, a brown & black tabby, came to me from the Walmart parking lot in 2001. My college friends and I were going to shop, and on the way to the store we talked about how I’d really love to have a kitten, but that it was too expensive and probably a bad idea. I was very sad to not have a friend in my life, but had come to terms with needing to be “responsible.” We got out of the car, and I immediately heard him meowing. It was a 100+ degree day in Louisiana, the parking lot was hot enough to fry an egg, and definitely hot enough to scar soft little kitty feet. He was just a kitten, probably around 3 months old, and he was screaming at the top of his little lungs from under the car next to us. I told my friends to go on inside to shop, and then I spent the next 30 minutes boiling on the blacktop, trying to coax him out. Once he got out from under the car, he rushed across traffic and up to the storefront, then stood, looking at himself in the mirrored windows, just meowing insanely. With an offer of cool water in a little dish, I was able to snag him. He was covered in motor oil, burning up from the heat, panting wildly, too weak to struggle, but trying anyway. I knew right then that he was a gift – and that he was going to be a handful. After a little consideration and research into baby names, I decided on Matthew – “Gift of God.” It seemed perfect, because the coincidence of our meeting was just too great. Also, as a medieval studies major, I wanted to give him a name that fit my life. His second name was Marlon, after a coworker. He turned out to not only be pretty much the best thing that has ever happened to me, but to be my best friend. I was inconsolable for days after he disappeared in 2007.
In his poem “The Naming of Cats,” TS Eliot explains that cats have three names – the name we give them, the name that they go by (a more “particular” name that could only belong to one cat), and the name they secretly call themselves. I called Matthew Matty sometimes, but his real second name was Meow Meow. Not too imaginative, but it stuck, because he was ALWAYS meowing, and he always meowed in double syllables. For his entire life with me, every night Matthew would put me to sleep by curling up at my right shoulder, snuggling his nose under my right ear, and purring until I passed out. When he was tiny, he actually tried to nurse there, giving me little kitten hickeys, but as he got older, he just got used to pressing his nose up under my ear. When he left my life, I couldn’t sleep or eat for days.
After Meow Meow disappeared, a few months went by and I was desperately lonely. My best friend and I had moved into a huge, scary attic apartment in an old Victorian mansion, and I was terrified to be on my own there. For me, having a cat around has always been the best way to fight off my fears. What can I say? I read way too many horror novels in my youth.
I spent my days reading the classifieds and Craigslist in search of my missing boy, and this one ad kept catching my eye. Some college kids had found a little brown and gray tabby kitten, female. After a few days of continued posts, a new ad went up: if no one wanted the kitten, they were taking it to the pound at the end of the week. Of course I called immediately and arranged to save the kitten that afternoon. My best friend drove me over to pick up the kitten, and on the way to the house, we discussed the fact that she had a line on a little black male kitten that was up for adoption. I’d get this kitten, she’d get that one, and then we’d “switch” – I’d get the male kitten and she’d get the female (I was convinced after Matthew that boy cats were better). However, one look at Isabel, and I changed my mind. I had to keep her.
She was tiny – she fit into the palm of my hand – and her eyes were still blue. It was obvious that she hadn’t been weaned properly, though she was eating wet food. The college kids said that they had found the mother and a litter, but the jerks had taken the feral mom to the pound, and given away the kittens one by one. Isabel, the runt, the weakest, was sick and no one wanted her. No one but me. I took her home, gave her medicine to clear out the horrible bacterial infection (her tiniest kitten farts could clear whole rooms), and watched as she turned into a holy fucking terror, climbing drapes, eating plants, biting any ankles that got too close, and just generally being the scariest thing in the apartment – to hell with ghosts.
Isabel’s name came from one of my favorite movies. I love the film Ladyhawke, whose main character is named Isabeau. Isabeau was played by actress Michelle Pfeiffer, who had (and has) the most beautiful eyes. The first thing to stand out to me about Isabel was her eyes. They’re prominent, wise, and sharp. When we first met, they were deep blue, but they quickly turned to a crazy golden brown. Now they’re a beautiful jade green. Isabel quickly became Izzy (sung to the tune of the Beatles’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”). From there, over the years, The Man has taken to calling her Skroazzles – this came about in the following order:
- Miss Izzy
Weird, yes. I still call her Izzy-belle, or sometimes Izzy-smells. There’s a song for this, too (to the tune of “Jesus Christ, Superstar”): “Isabel, gee you smell!” It’s that kind of household. And no, she doesn’t really smell. That’s her brother, Munky.
Munky’s original name (the one that’s on his doctor’s records) is Murphy. The Man and I took longer than ever to name him, for various reasons. I was looking for something perfect, and honestly, Murphy’s personality is rather devoid of normal cat traits. It took awhile for me to realize that I had adopted a dog in a cat suit. He’s docile, agreeable, pretty dumb, not very imaginative or inquisitive, and more of a lump than any other cat I’ve ever met. Everybody loves him. He’s a huge cuddle-bug who lives for belly rubs, head scratches, and treats. Colonel Meow would be horrified.
Murphy became Murphy because he liked to steal sips of my beer, and at the time I was drinking a lot of Irish stout. When he first entered the household in 2010, Isabel (who was still an antisocial biter who only liked one human – me) was having none of him. She hissed, spat, struck out, growled…from the other side of the bathroom door. Meanwhile, Murphy was inside the bathroom, purring up a storm, trying to reach out under the door to make friends. The angrier she got, the happier he seemed. Then one day he escaped the bathroom. The horrified Isabel tried to attack, then gave up and went to hide. He batted at her hiding spot. When she came out from hiding, he tackled her. When she hissed at him, he rolled toys her way.
It took about a week, but he wore her down with stupidity and love. He’s such a sweet, unassuming dude that he had no concept of the fact that she was bigger and meaner. He wanted to be friends. That’s a cool growly noise you’re making, let’s be friends! Oh gee, you’ve got sharp claws – what do you say, let’s be friends! Oh hai there, you’re doing a great job of biting me – wanna be friends? Oooh, wrestling, my favorite! I’m just going to sit on your head until you’re ready to be friends, OK? It was this silliness and insistence on play that turned him quickly from Murphy to Munky. Munky instead of “monkey” because it’s more of a chunky, heavy word – just like the cat. Imagine that he’s made of play-doh – simple, soft, non-threatening.
Also, he’s such a fucking Nermal. I couldn’t help but find him charming, but I felt for my poor Izzy. She hadn’t even seen another cat in over two years, and then this one gets dumped on her. Literally. Eventually she was so tired of being angry that she just gave up and cuddled.
Munky also gets called Munky Man and Murph. The Man also calls him “My Buddy” – they’re BFFs AAF, like for reals. They take naps together, watch sports together, eat crunchy snacks together, all kinds of man stuff.