the dangerous business of naming your pets

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter / it isn’t just one of your holiday games…

I love names. I love choosing and bestowing names. I’ve been thinking about my future children’s names for years, but I’ve always slapped names on pets with maybe a day’s consideration.

It’s a pet. It’s a chance to go for those crazy, fun names I would never dare give to a child. But after 12 years of naming cats, I am here as a cautionary tale.

Be careful what you name.

When I was in high school we adopted two tortoiseshell kittens. Being literary-minded, I insisted on Portia and Ophelia. It was perfect – Portia was smug and reserved, Ophelia had markings around her eyes that made her look wild-eyed and crazy.

Poor Ophelia met her maker while I was away at college, hit by a speeding car on the country road off which my parents live. Someone blamed me for naming her after a character who died tragically. I pointed out that they lived in the boonies and the odds weren’t exactly in her favor. But secretly I felt guilty.

Eventually a tuxedo Norwegian Forest kitten appeared – a ball of black and white fluff whose life consisted of sleeping in your lap, sleeping in the sun, or sleeping on a cushion. Mousing? Bah – menial work. This diva was all about the cream. In keeping with the oh-so-successful-Shakespeare-theme, I wanted to name her Juliet. My suggestion was met with blank stares. Claiming they didn’t want any stupid name of my choosing, my parents let my youngest brother decide…on Mittens.

Mittens waxed larger and fluffier by the month, sprawling ever wider across the best cushions in the house, until one day she disappeared through an open window. My brothers have claimed to occasionally spot a fluffy black cat running with the wild Dachshunds in the woods behind my parents’ house. I like to think of Mittens as a hardened forest cat now. Maybe she goes by Mitt.

A Manx kitten was next chosen. She was brave, she was playful, she was loving. After the Mittens debacle, Mom once again turned to me for naming suggestions. By then I’d learned no one wanted my fancy literary names, so I suggested Buffy. She was buff-colored and feisty – it was perfect. And yeah, I’m a Whedonite.

Except Buffy’s name took on even greater symbolism when her heart stopped beating for seven minutes during her spaying. When they finally got her back, she’d lost so much oxygen that she was a blind mess. She eventually recovered most of her sight, but her night vision is still awful and she occasionally falls in the toilet.

When my husband and I adopted our own cat a couple years ago, I had finally realized the danger of naming pets after characters with tragic lives. Perhaps some people can get away with it, but clearly I cannot. Our cat is a gorgeous tabbico with spots down one flank and a delicate profile. We settled on Isis.

::face palm::

Egyptian mythology just isn’t on most people’s radar. We can’t say her name without funny looks or awkward giggles, and I’ve seriously considered changing it. Except I now don’t trust myself to name anything. With a track record this poor, perhaps I should stick to blinding choosing from a book.

Tragic names make tragic cats, stupid names make stupid cats, and fancy names will be taken by terrorists.

Our next cat will be Bob.

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