Home Columns Anantha Narayan Cat’s out of the bag

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    To most nerds of my generation, CAT conjures up imagery of a much reviled entrance exam that decides whether you’re IIM-material or not. To civil and sometimes uncivil engineers, a cat is a pet name for dozers, loaders, pavers and excavators. And to a few kind souls, it’s a meowing and purring furry little thing with more oomph and charm than a mere doggie.

    The essayist and poet, TS Eliot, was a legendary cat person. Among his greatest works was Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – an anthology of humorous verses that dishes out practical wisdom on the feline species on a range of topics including naming. He’s of the view that every pussy must have three names: ‘Tiger’, ‘Oscar’, ‘Jasper’ and ‘Felix’ kind of trite monikers he’s often bestowed; ‘Jellylorum’, ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Monkustrap’ type of quirky names that cats react and respond to; and a mystic name that no one but the cat knows to be true.

    Eliot put his naming wisdom to use when he picked ‘George Pushdragon’, ‘Pettipaws’, ‘Wiscus’, ‘Mungojerrie’ and ‘Rumpelteazer’ as his pets. Ernest Hemingway (the writer who lived with 30 cats) was far more adventurous with his nomenclature. ‘Crazy Christian’, and ‘Friendless Brother’ were among his favourite ones. Relatively speaking, Mark Twain was a little inventive. He didn’t settle for anything lesser than ‘Satan’, ‘Beelzebub’, ‘Sin’, ‘Pestilence’ and ‘Famine’.

    Charles Dickens was easily the most unimaginative author. He named his kitty ‘William’ and then abruptly changed it to ‘Williamina’ when it gave birth to kittens. Wonder why he didn’t better it. Cat got his tongue?

    The best bunch of cat names, that I’ve come across, is from America’s business magnate Martha Stewart. ‘Beethoven’, ‘Mozart’, ‘Vivaldi’, and ‘Verdi’ make up her clowder. The names are so musical, it befits a Cat Stevens instead of Martha Stewart. Anyway,, her inspiration could have been The Great Gatsby novelist F Scott Fitzgerald. He apparently had a cat called ‘Chopin’.

    Among politicos, George Bush’s ‘India’ and Bill Clinton’s ‘Socks’ are fairly popular. What’s less known is the fact that Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith’s cat was originally named Ahmedabad. When he shortened it to ‘Ahmed’ there was a ruckus. So he renamed ‘Ahmedabad’ to ‘Gujarat’! Now that I’ve let enough cats out of the bag, I shall vamoose.

    – Anantha Narayan

    (Know of any interesting cat names? Rat on them to anantha@albertdali.com)

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