Cat names occur mostly by accident at our house, which I imagine is how they happen almost everywhere. Something pops into somebody’s head that catches on, and that’s the cat’s name. They have peculiar ways of working out.

Long ago, for example, a scraggly money cat was named Luigi, after a video game character. Luigi seemed to be disintegrating from both ends toward the middle: He had a long, bent tail, pieces of which would fall off on the basement floor, and simultaneously, he seemed to have a significant lack of gray matter at the head end. Luigi quickly used up all his lives.

Sometimes names arise along strange psychic paths. Alley Lucy’s name came to Bonnie in a dream. Alley Lucy had been bestowed on us terrified, could not be calmed, and seemed to be living in a perpetual cat nightmare. She hid in the basement for over a week, and when we thought she might be all right to take a turn outside, she vanished into the woods.

When he was about 6, Jack named a sweet but very young kitten John the Cat Wirehouse. Where he got the word “wirehouse” was unknown. What could it even mean? I was reading Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s novel “The Sirens of Titan” at the time, and a few days after John the Cat Wirehouse’s name had settled into common usage (I am not making this up), I came to chapter 7: “Cheers in the Wirehouse.”

We stopped naming cats for literary figures after the short, unhappy life of a very nice little orange cat who got his name from Samuel Beckett’s novel “Watt.” The fictional character Watt is lame, and after we named the kitten we discovered that, appropriately, he had a deformed front paw.

In midsummer Watt disappeared. What happens to cats when they disappear is of course usually unknown. Do they live or die? Sometimes, inexplicably, they return. One rainy morning weeks after we’d given up on him, I heard a faint cry and opened the back door. “It’s Watt!” Except for being wet, bedraggled and still lame, he seemed fine. We gave him a bowl of food, and he purred on the couch.


Later that afternoon, Watt was chasing butterflies on the lawn when a dog showed up. Watt bolted into the road and a pickup truck crushed him. It was appallingly ironic, “how it is” stuff straight out of Beckett.

Premeditated names seem riskier than accidental names. When Jack was 11 he wanted to name a cat Hunter, and finally got the chance. Hunter was a pleasant, raincloud-gray specimen whose most vigorous activities, however, were seeking out the food bowl and returning to the couch. He hunted nothing.

Sometimes accidental names don’t work out either. Mozart was not a genius. He was a grayish lump that sat on the deck railing and stared like an owl, even in snowstorms. The woods are dangerous, dark and deep for the slow.

Overall the catch-as-cat-can naming method gets the best results. Sophia was a short-haired white cat named after the city in Bulgaria, Sofia, which we had visited often in just-previous years and whose etymology includes the Greek for “wisdom.” When we named her, we did not yet know that Sophia was more intelligent than most humans.

Macy was named after a pop star because she was completely gunmetal gray and had a perfectly symmetrical round face. She turned out to be a mousing diva. Her upbeat sidekick Mojo, who annoyed mellow Macy to no end, was named after a license plate parked outside a music shop in Fairfield. It turned out Mojo had it working too and, like Macy, was a virtuoso grounds warden.

One premeditated name did fit. Jack wanted to name a cat Brian after the alcoholic dog in the “Family Guy”cartoon. This seemed OK until the orange kitten who got the name appeared to be a girl. We called her Brian anyway, despite fears it might cause gender-identity confusion. After Brian was answering to her name, however, she turned out to be a he. The name came full-circle, and Brian is almost as vocationally challenged as the alcoholic dog.

He’s pretty lovable, though. In his youth we called him Brian the Cryin’ Lion because of his vocalizations of unprovoked fright and his leonine physique. We also have this example of evolutionary failure who acquired the throwaway name Panda because of his black and white fur. He also gets called things like Pandamonium and Pandaloon because he has no discernible superego controls.

Maybe in the future we’ll analyze the nicknames cats get, with their little nappy heads.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods.” You can contact him at [email protected] Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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