Naming Felines

I’ve always said that there are cat people and dog people. It doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, but many of us have a definite preference for one or the other. It’s easy to put on the pop psychologist’s hat and speculate why: dog lovers appreciate the canine obedience, loyalty and devotion; while cat lovers like the fact that cats are independent and unpredictable.

Further, it might even be that the pet we prefer is a reflection of what we seek in a human partner. I’m firmly in the cat camp, so it might be suspected that I’m attracted to women who are independent, self-centred and undependable, with a vicious streak. Look back at my history and the truth or falsehood of that will be revealed.

I have always liked cats. The first that I can remember making friends with was a pure white kitten belonging to a neighbour. He was called Fluff. (The cat. The neighbour was called Mr Foster.) In the year I did my first set of major exams at school, classes finished at the end of May, and my exams were over in mid-June, meaning that I had an an extra couple of weeks Summer holiday; and the weather was fine. (It always is in your childhood.) I remember sitting in a deck chair reading, while Fluff dozed in the shade beneath.

In my older teens, I played in a covers band, and I remember that our guitarist’s older married sister (on whom I had an obvious crush) had several cats that I used to enjoy meeting. I can’t remember their names though.

With university, and later, moving back in to my parents’ house, I had no opportunity to adopt a cat of my own, but once I had bought a house, I began to think of it, although I decided I’d come up with a name first. I don’t know why. With a physics degree, my mind turned to Schrödinger’s imaginary cat, which was alive and dead at the same time. (This was Schrödinger’s way of pointing out that although quantum mechanics was a very effective way of calculating sub-atomic physics, nobody could say what it actually meant. It’s an argument that rumbles on today, almost a hundred years later. My guess is that when scientists eventually settle on an answer, it will be “decoherence”. Check back in a hundred years and see if I’m right.)

Quantum and FrancisAnyway, I picked the name “Quantum Cat” before I had a cat to apply it to. When she eventually arrived, it was via a friend who had a friend trying to find homes for a litter of kittens from a farm in Donegal. When I went to my friend’s house to pick up my new kitten, I took a cardboard carton for cat transport, hoping that the dark security of the box on the back seat of the car would keep her calm while travelling. But by a few hundred metres down the road, she had forced her way through the interlocked flaps and climbed up the back of the driver’s seat. She spent the whole journey sitting on my shoulder, tail curled round my neck.

On a whim, I decided that all cats have the same surname, namely “Cat”. I know that therefore, by analogy, all humans should also have the same surname, but, after all, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? You can call me Steve Human if you like. (Nothing to do with ) But I then thought that Quantum could have a middle name: Esmerelda. It’s a good witch’s name, a reference to cats as familiars. Then I got carried away and gave her “O’Reilly” for her Irish roots, and “Heisenberg” for another uncertain physics reference.

By this stage, she’d suffered a serious accident and lost a back leg, but recovered very well and got around fine on three legs; but in honour of this, I inserted the digit ‘3’ as her first middle name. Maybe the nomenclature of “Logan’s Run” was an influence. In full, then, she became Quantum 3 Esmerelda O’Reilly Heisenberg Cat. She lived to a very senior cat age of nineteen and a half.

Conrad and MeFor a couple of years at the end of Quantum’s life, we were visited frequently by a feral tom, jet black in colour. After a while of not having any name, and a few false starts, I finally settled on calling him Black Francis, after the singer from the Pixies. (Frank Black — Black Francis was a stage name). Francis never really moved in permanently though, and doing my bit for cat control, I had him neutered and put up for adoption. But before he went, I started getting a second visitor, also black, but an already-neutered male. This one was easier to name, a precedent having been set, and he’s known in these parts as Black Conrad. Or sometimes, Fat Conrad. (Conrad Black, of course, is the disgraced newspaper proprietor. He got out of jail in July, although the IRS is still pursuing an action against him.)

I was sure that Conrad was not wild, as scrawny Francis had been, because he was fat and sleek. I thought he was bound to have a permanent home somewhere and that his visits to me were based on nothing more than free food. That led me to go off on two months’ holiday in 2009 without making any provision for Conrad. When I got home, Conrad turned up looking thin and moth-eaten and had obviously been living rough while I was away. I was filled with remorse, but he was soon fully-fed (actually very soon) and sleek and furry once again.

So, for the last year, Conrad has been effectively, sort of, almost, “my” cat. He comes in for breakfast most days, and then either goes asleep on the chair (his chair) or demands to be let out to roam again. If he does go out, he’ll probably be back later for lunch or dinner, or midnight snacks. But he doesn’t live here. Quantum Cat had a place (a heated, insulated igloo made from polystyrene) in the garage, and the cat flap is still in the garage door, but Conrad refuses to sleep in the garage. He just goes off somewhere, probably still affected by the call of the wild. Or free food in some neighbouring farm. Still, he can be very affectionate, and sometimes makes me laugh. (lolcat)

I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to formalise the relationship with a more extravagant name. Carrying on the surname idea, he’s already got Black Conrad Cat, but I feel that one or two more names would enhance his dignity (something he needs (lolcat)). Conrad Black’s middle name is Moffat. I could use Muffin as a parody of that, and also a reference to the noms, but I can’t really see where it would fit. I did think of “Bunnykiller” for obvious reasons, but then decided it wasn’t upmarket enough. I couldn’t come up with a pronounceable Latin version either, given that rabbits are in the family Leporidae and that lunch would have been Oryctolagus cuniculus.

I’m still mulling it over then. I’ll let you know. Conrad, not being the sharpest cat in the box, has no idea what his name is. I’ve taken to saying “Conrad” clearly each time I feed him so that he will perhaps learn to come when called, but I don’t think that would work with a multi-word apellation. That will be just for my own amusement.


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