The first cat I named was Puff, like Dick and Jane's pet in my first-grade reader. The most recent cat I helped name is called Schafter, a name plucked from his owners' family tree. Original? Not at all in either case. My choices paralleled the trends of the day.
More and more cats are being given "people" names. Those who study such things say it reflects our changing attitude toward pets, whom we now regard as members of the family.
The top 10 names for female cats last year were Sassy, Misty, Princess, Samantha, Lucy, Missy, Molly, Sophie, Pumpkin and Maggie. That information comes from a major manufacturer of name tags for pets. The top 10 names for male cats were Max, Sam, Simba, Charlie, Oliver, Oscar, Gizmo, Buddy, Toby and Spike.
Another list, based on veterinary records, includes most of the same names but adds Chloe, Cleo, Angel and Kitty for the girls and Tigger, Tiger, Smokey, Shadow and Sammy for the boys.
Schafter's people are the only ones I know who routinely give their pets family names. But recently, Dear Abby quoted several sources confirming that the practice is becoming widespread.
Schafter's extended family has been naming pets for relatives, present and past, for about 50 years. The tradition even survived a dicey incident in which a young man named two pigs for his aunts, Pat and Leona.
Most cat experts recommend names with one or two syllables. Longer names tend to be shortened into nicknames that lose the panache of the original. A cat you name Xtra Tuff ends up as plain, old Tuffy.
It is a good idea to avoid names that sound like words you want the cat to recognize. Those include commands like "no" and "down." I once knew a fat cat named Winner, which, unfortunately, sounded too much like "dinner." Whenever addressed by name, he thought he was being called to eat.
Think twice about names like Sissy and Sassy because of the sibilant, "S" sound. It may spook the cat because it sounds like hissing. That's why you are not supposed to say "Shhh" when comforting a frightened or agitated cat.
Knowing that, my brother repeatedly said, "It's OK," as he carried home a frightened stray. Just as he reached the front door, his wife opened it and asked, "Who's that?" Simultaneously, my brother said, "It's OK." They kept the wayfaring stranger. He is, of course, named OK.
There are plenty of books and Web sites with suggestions for cat names. In the book department, I'm partial to The Cat Name Companion: Facts and Fables to Help You Name Your Feline by Mark Bryant and the Garfield Book of Cat Names by Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip.
On the Internet, search under "cat names" and you will find lists by cat gender, color, breed, temperament and multiples thereof. How about Chutney for a dignified orange male or Briquette for a petite black female? Got a guy with a thunderpurr? Consider calling him Harley. Naming a matched set of three (two males, one female)? What about Tom, Dick and Harriet?
Last year, a man on Prince of Wales Island found a friendly, spayed female cat. She obviously was a lost pet. As the man searched for her family, he started addressing her as "Cat" because, as he explained, she already had a name; he just didn't know what it was. When her people could not be found, he placed her in a good home.
The family has four little girls. They welcomed her with a long list of prospective names. Months later, when the man ran into the girls' parents, he asked which one they had chosen.
The girls had not been able to agree. None of the names seemed just right.
The cat is permanently called Cat.
Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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