Wednesday 10 December 2014

Naming the cat - Michelle Lovric


Title page to Emily M. Madddon's sketchbook containing numerous pencil and ink drawings concerning the adventures of Mouton the Cat and other animals, 1859

‘The star of the cat,’ wrote H.P. Lovecraft, ‘is just now in the ascendant.’Among historical writers and writers of historical fiction, ‘twas ever thus. How many History Girls enjoy the society of a cat or three?

Every time a new cat comes into a writer’s house there follows an agony of naming, because the title of one’s cat refracts one’s creativity with an undeniable shine.

Anyone with a cat to name may find inspiration in the following illustrious choices. Every cat owner faces this problem. On the subject of literary prowess, Samuel Butler declared, ‘They say the test of this is whether a man can write an inscription. I say, “Can he name a kitten?”’

T.S. Eliot observed that cats should have three names: an everyday one, something rather more grand and then the name that the cat has for himself. Michael Joseph concurred, adding that ‘there are times when nothing less than full ceremonial titles will serve’. His own cats were called Minna Minna Mowbray and Charles O’Malley. And the kind mistress of Pussy Meow, the eponymous heroine of a feline autobiography ghostwritten by S. Louise Patteson in 1901, was also emphatic on that point: ‘A cat should have a name, because it adds to her dignity, and commands respect for her.’ Pussy Meow herself confirmed it: ‘Let me tell you, a cat with a respectable name feels a sense of dignity and self-respect that is impossible to one only known by the general name of “kitty”.’

Mark Twain perhaps took the process a little too far, giving his cats titles like ‘Blatherskite’ and ‘Apollinaris’. He facetiously claimed that some of these cats died early ‘on account of being so overweighted with their names’.

Here’s a highly edited list of historical cat devotees and the names they chose for their muses.

Matthew Arnold: his imperious cat was called Atossa and appeared in his poem ‘Matthias’.

Jules Barbey D’Aurevilly: Démonette, ‘eyes of gold on black velvet’, her son Spirito, and Grifette.

Oswald Barron: James (‘that sort of cat to whom adventure calls’) and Pippa.

A funeral procession of elderly women with cats in their arms, following the coffin of a dead cat, in a churchyard. Coloured stipple engraving by J. Pettit after E.G. Byron, 1789.

Joachim du Bellay: Bélaud. When the cat died in 1558 the poet wrote a beautiful and comprehensive tribute in verse.
Jeremy Bentham: Sir John Langborn, who in his early days was something of a rake. But he reformed. Over time the cat’s increased dignity was reflected in his name, which became The Reverend Sir John Langborn, D.D. (Doctor of Divinity). The cat dined at table and was eventually buried in John Milton’s garden.

The Duchess of Béthune: Dom Gris, who exchanged much flirtatious correspondence with Grisette, belonging to Antoinette Deshoulières (see below).

Alexander Borodin’s dinner table was always overrun with cats, particularly Dlinyenki (‘Longy’), a tabby, and Rybolov (‘fisherman’).

Joseph Boulmier: Gaspard and Coquette, to each of whom the poet dedicated villanelles.

Frances Hodgson Burnett: Dora, who warmed her mistress while she wrote her first stories, and Dick, who was exhibited at the first New York cat show.

George Gordon, Lord Byron: Beppo, one of five cats who travelled with the poet.

Monsignore Capecelatro, Archbishop of Taranto: Pantalone, Desdemona, Otello, among others, who were accustomed to join him at the dinner table, where they had their own chairs.

Karel Čapek, author of some of the finest essays on cats’ soul-dominance over man: Pudlenka I, II and III. Pudlenka I appeared on the author’s doorstep the day his tomcat died and had 26 kittens in her lifetime. Pudlenka II had 21.

Cats in human dress playing a variety of games, including arm wrestling and tug of war. Colour woodcut by Kunimasa IV, 1870s.

Chang T’uan: Eastern Guard, White Phoenix, Purple Flower, Expelling Vexation, Brocade Belt, Picture of Clouds and Myriad Strings.

François René Chateaubriand: Micetto, once the cat of Pope Leo XII. Chateaubriand said of him, ‘I endeavour to soften his exile, and help him to forget the Sistine Chapel, and the vast dome of Saint Angelo, where far from earth, he was wont to take his daily promenade.’

A sleeping cat, from 18th century Japanese album.
Emperor Chu Hou-Tsung of China: Frost-Eyebrows, a cat of ‘faintly blue’ colour but with snowy fur above her eyes.

Winston Churchill: Blackie, Bob, Jock, Margate, Mr Cat aka Tango and Nelson, a black cat who sat in a chair next to Churchill in both the Cabinet and dining room. Churchill once offended one of his cats by shouting at it. The cat disappeared. Churchill had a sign put in his window that read ‘Cat, come home, all is forgiven’. The returning cat was rewarded with a luxurious supper.

Colette: Franchette, Kapok, Kiki-la-Doucette, Kro, La Chatte, La Chatte Dernière, La Touteu, Mini-mini, Minionne, Muscat, One and Only, Petiteu, Pinichette and Zwerg.

François Edouard Joachim Coppée: Bourget (‘Zézé’), a huge cat who lived to be more than 20 years old,  Loulou, a Portuguese angora, and Mistigris, a cat remarkable for his epic appetite.

Georges Courteline (G. Moineaux): Le Purotin de la rue du Ruisseau, Charles Scherer, alias l’Infâme, also alias la Terreur de Clignancourt, la Mère dissipée, le Petit Turbulent, and Le Rouquin de Montmartre. The satirical playwright was a cat lover from babyhood.

Erasmus Darwin: Persian Snow, who enjoyed a correspondence with Po Felina, the cat of his friend and biographer Anna Seward.

A cat's face. Etching by W Hollar, 1646.
W.H. Davies : Venus, his ‘self-conscious’ black cat, who was, the poet wrote, one of the three golden loves of his life (the other two were his wife and his dog Beauty Boy).

Antoinette Deshoulières: Grisette, Mimy, Marmuse. Deshoulières wrote more than a dozen poems to her cats. She also ‘helped’ Grisette to conduct a poetic correspondence with Cochon, the Duke of Vivonne’s dog; Tata, the cat of the Marquis of Montgras, Dom Gris, the cat of the Duchess of Béthune, and Mittin, the cat of Rosalie Bocquet. Madame Deshoulières also wrote a play, La Mort de Cochon, about the immortal love of Grisette for her deceased canine lover. In the play Grisette refuses to be consoled by an army of feline suitors.

Charles Dickens: Williamina, called William until she bore kittens, which she insisted on moving into Dickens’ study. One was kept and known respectfully as ‘The Master’s Cat’. She would snuff out his reading candle with her paw in order to obtain his attention.

Alexandre Dumas: Mysouff I and II, Le Docteur. The first Mysouff, according to his adoring owner, was a clairvoyant and could tell the time. The second one broke into the writer’s aviary and consumed 500 francs’ worth of tropical birds.

Anatole France: Hamilcar, immortalized in his story Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard. Also Pascal, a stray who retained his wandering habits.

Théophile Gautier: Childebrand, Madame Théophile, Don Pierrot de Navarre, Séraphita, Eponine, Zuleika, Zulema, Zobeide, Gavroche, Enjolras, Zizi, Cléopatre. Gautier’s adoring essays about his cats are endlessly anthologized. Less known is the fact that he liked to pose in Turkish robes, lolling on cushions and surrounded by his cats.

A group of cats giving a concert. Reproduction, ca 1817,
of an etching after P Breughel.

Edmund Gosse: the domineering Caruso and Buchanan. According to Osbert Sitwell, ‘Buchanan was … a proud cat, and would never consent to come up to tea unless called or carried by his master in person. Moreover, to secure his continued attendance, he had to be bribed with a saucer of milk, first poured out by Mrs Gosse, and then served to him by her in a kneeling position …’

Thomas Hardy: Cobby, his second cat. It is rumoured that this cat devoured Hardy’s heart, when it was about to be buried, as the writer had requested, in a grave with his wife. It was to his first cat that he dedicated his heart-rending poem ‘Last Words to a Dumb Friend’.

Lafcadio Hearn: Tama, a tortoiseshell.

Ernest Hemingway owned at least 30 cats, including Boise, Crazy Christian, Dillinger, Ecstasy, Fats, Friendless Brother, Furhouse, Pilar, Skunk and Thruster. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida, boasts a population of more than 60 cats. The Hemingway cats have an unusual gene which gives them an extra toe. It is said that they are all descended from a six-toed cat presented to Hemingway by a ship’s captain.

Augustus Hare: Selma. A cruel aunt ordered the writer’s beloved childhood pet to be hung.
Ernst Hoffmann: Murr, to whom the German writer and composer attributed authorship of the book Murr the Cat and his Views on Life. Murr modestly prefaces the volume as follows: ‘With the quiet confidence that naturally belongs to true genius, I entrust my Biography to the world; that it may learn how a Great Cat is bred and educated.’
Mary Hoffman: Fluffy (don't judge her; she was only five. He later became P. Flower Esq.); Rasselas (he was an Abyssinian of course); Ferrex and Porrex (Gorbaduc); Kulfi, Kichri; Lorenzo, Lonza (Dante) and Lila (from Messaien's Turangalila symphony). Kulfi's kittens were: Kofta, Korma, Kishmish, Kaju and Kichri.

Thomas Hood: Scratchaway, Sootikins and Pepperpot, offspring of Tabitha Longclaws Tiddleywink.

Victor Hugo: Gavroche, also called Chanoine.

Joris Karl Huysmans: Barre-de-Rouille, Mouche.

Gertrude Jekyll: Pinkieboy, Tittlebat, Toozle, Octavius and many others. The famous garden designer always had up to eight cats at a time.

Gwen John: Edgar Quinet, a tortoiseshell often painted by the artist. When he disappeared she went to quite extraordinary lengths to try to find him.

Samuel Johnson: Lily and Hodge. In his finicky old age Hodge regularly dined on oysters. Johnson would go out to purchase these delicacies himself in case the servants, encumbered with this chore, took against his beloved cat. His biographer James Boswell was afraid of cats and suffered greatly from Hodge’s presence when he interviewed Johnson. Hodge is immortalized in a statue outside Johnson’s house in Gough Square, London. Next to the sculpted cat are a few empty oyster shells.

Paul de Kock: Frontin – the kind of cat, the novelist declared, ‘he would not give up for his weight in gold’. De Kock was well known as a great cat lover. Whenever his neighbours found a stray cat they just tossed the animal over the garden wall to join the huge family already living there. He is described by Carl Van Vechten as ‘a true félinophile enragé.

Andrew Lang: Mr Toby, a black cat, Gyp, a notorious thief, and Master of Gray, a Persian.

Edward Lear: Foss. Lear’s tabby cat was immortalized in poems, limericks and drawings. It was said that when Lear built a new villa in San Remo, Italy, he commissioned the architect to replicate his last home so as to cause Foss the minimum of distress in his new surroundings. Foss was honoured with a full burial in Lear’s Italian garden when he died in 1887. Edward Strachey, who visited Lear at the villa, recorded: ‘At breakfast the morning after I arrived, this much-thought-of, though semi-tailed, cat jumped in at the window and ate a piece of toast from my hand. This, I found, was considered an event … his recognition of me was a sort of “guinea stamp”, which seemed to please Mr Lear greatly, and assured him of my fitness to receive the constant acts of kindness he was showing me.’

Pierre Loti: Moumoutte Blanche, a black and white angora, and Moumoutte Chinoise, a stowaway kitten from China both appeared in Vies de Deux Chattes. Loti also wrote Un Bête Galeuse about a mortally ill cat to whom he administered euthanasia. Other Loti pets were called Le Chat, Ratonne and Berlaud. Loti printed visiting cards for his esteemed felines: ‘Madame Moumoutte, white, the foremost cat of Monsieur Pierre Loti, 141 Rue Chanzy, Rochefort-sur-Mer’.

Stéphane Mallarmé: Lilith, a black cat; Neige, a white angora and her son Frimas.

Catulle Mendès: Mime, Fafner, Fasolt. According to the French poet, after Mime was neutered, he became depressed and committed suicide by jumping off the roof. Mendès took his own life some time later. 

Gottfried Mind, Swiss artist, known as the ‘Raphael of cats’: Minette, whom he saved from a cull of cats during a rabies epidemic in his native Bern in 1809. He not only painted cats but sculpted them out of chestnuts.

William Nicholson: Frou-frou, Black, Castlerosse and The Girl. The versatile artist also made portraits of Winston Churchill’s marmalade tom.

Florence Nightingale: Bismarck, a large Persian; Disraeli and Gladstone. Nightingale owned more than 60 cats during her lifetime.

Edgar Allan Poe: Catarina, a tortoiseshell. She often sat on his shoulders while he wrote.

Agnes Repplier: Agrippina. The author dedicated The Fireside Sphinx (1901) to her. Other cats included Lux, Banquo, Banshee, Carl and Nero.

Cardinal Armand Jean Duplessis Richelieu: Racan, Perruque, Rubis sur l’Ongle, Gazette, Félimare, who was striped like a tiger, Lucifer, a jet black cat, Ludovic le Cruel, a savage rat-catcher, Ludoviska, a Polish cat, Mimie-Paillon, an angora, Mounard le Fougueux, described as ‘quarrelsome, capricious and worldly’, Pyrame and Thisbe, named after the mythological lovers because they slept together with their paws entwined, Serpolet, who was fond of sunning himself in the window, and Soumise, Richelieu’s favourite. Richelieu was a great cat lover and enjoyed playing with them. He even had one of the rooms in his house made into a cattery for them. He entrusted their care to specially employed servants, Abel and Teyssandier, who came to feed them twice a day with pâtés made from the best chicken meat. In his will, he left a pension for his 14 surviving cats, so that the servants could continue to look after them.

Theodore Roosevelt: Slippers, Tom Quartz. The American president doted on Slippers and once obliged a group of VIPS visiting the White House to make a detour around the sleeping animal.

Christina Rossetti: Grimalkin, the subject of her moving poem ‘On the Death of a Cat’, written when she was only 16 years old.

George Sand: Minou. Sand ate her breakfast from the same bowl as Minou.

Domenico Scarlatti: Pulcinella – she inspired ‘The Cat’s Fugue’ as she liked to walk up and down on the composer’s keyboard.

Albert Schweitzer: Sizi. The German doctor taught himself to write with his right hand, because Sizi preferred to fall asleep on his left arm, thereby preventing the doctor from writing prescriptions for his patients.

Walter Scott: Hinse – he terrorized the author’s dogs, but was eventually killed by one of them.

Robert Southey: His Serene Highness, the Most Noble the Archduke Rumpelstilzchen, Marquis Macbum, Earl Tomlemange, Baron Raticide, Waowlher and Skaratch (a single cat!), Hurlyburlypuss, Lord Nelson (later Baron, Viscount and Earl), Sir Thomas Dido, Madame Catalini, Bona Marietta, Bona Fidelia, Madame Bianchi, Pulcheria, Ovid, Virgil, Othello, the Zombi, Prester John (who had to be rechristened Pope Joan), William Rufus and Danayr le Roux. Southey chronicled their lives in a charming memoir. His son observed: ‘It was not a little amusing to see a kitten answer to the name of some Italian singer or Indian chief, or hero of a German fairy tale, and often names and titles were heaped one upon another, till the possessor, unconscious of the honour conveyed, used to “set up his eyes and look” in wonderment.’

Carmen Sylva (Queen Elizabeth of Rumania): Misikatz, Diddelchen, Müffchen, Püffchen, Vulpi, Lilliput, Frätzibutzi (official name Freiherr Fratz von dem Katzenbuckel).

Mary Eleanor Bowes, later Countess of Strathmore: Jacintha, Angelica, Pasiphae, Bambino. Her cats were always referred to as her ‘blessed angels’.

Hippolyte Taine: Puss, Ebène and Mitonne, to whom he wrote 12 sonnets.

Booth Tarkington: Gypsy (‘half broncho and half Malay pirate’).

William Makepeace Thackeray: Louisa.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens): Sour Mash, Apollinaris, Zoroaster, Sin, Buffalo Bill, Beezelbub, Tammany and Blatherskite (‘names given them, not in an unfriendly spirit, but merely to practise the children in large and difficult styles of pronunciation’). Twain could not live without a cat for company. When he went to spend a summer in New Hampshire he decided that rather than adopt a stray that would be left to its own devices after he returned home, he would ‘rent’ a cat. In fact he rented two, Sackcloth and Ashes.

Carl Van Vechten, author of The Tiger in the House (1922): Feathers, Ariel.

Horace Walpole: Selima – a tortoiseshell tabby whose sad end inspired Thomas Gray’s poem ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’ (1748); Zara, Patapan, Harold and Fatima.

Charles Dudley Warner: Calvin, originally Harriet Beecher Stowe’s cat. She gave him to the Warner family when she moved to Florida. The cat, named for his ‘gravity, morality, and uprightness’, was the subject of an exquisitely written essay by Warner: ‘Calvin, A Study of Character’.

H.G. Wells: Mr Peter Wells

Michelle Lovric's website
Michelle Lovric's latest novel, The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, is published by Bloomsbury. It features one cat.

Some of the cats in her other books: Sofonisba, Bestard-Belou, Albicocco, Brolo and Talina, a part-time cat.

Michelle Lovric's most recent cats are Gamoush, Possum, Rose La Touche of Harristown, Mu and Caramella, otherwise known as Unholy Sausage.

History Girls with cats are invited to share their naming skills below.


Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Super post Michelle.
I am afraid that when I had cats they had rather ordinary names. Jasper - I mean how imaginative is that (not), but named for his variegated coat and it was a pun on the French 'J'espere' (sp) meaning 'I hope' because he was a very hopeful cat when it came to mealtimes. Our black and white female cat was called Dottie but had an LB warning by her name at the vets. This stood for 'Little Bugger' We were told she didn't get the gold medal for the worst cat they had ever had to treat but she was worthy of the silver! We now have three feisty terriers so cats are out for a while, but may return in the fullness of time.
Incidentally as a 'did you know.' All medieval creatures had names and cat were either Gilbert or Thibault (later to become Tibbles). That particular quirk still lives on in Robin Readbreast and Jenney Wren as a couple of examples.

Caroline Lawrence said...

I am probably the only History Girl who does not get terribly excited by cats (or dogs) but even I ADORED this post. The only thing missing is a picture of YOUR fab cat in his/her natural environment as glimpsed by some of us at the epic History Girls tea party last week!

Susan Price said...

A lovely, enjoyable post, Michelle - but I can't say I share the enthusiasm for coming up with quirky names.
I agree with Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax, who doesn't bother to name her goats because 'they have their own names, in goat.'#

My grandfather had a long series of cats - one used to wait for him to come home from work by sitting on top of a high wall. As Grandad passed underneath, the cat jumped down on his shoulder and rode him home. I don't know if this cat was Bill, Joe, Tom, Bob or Sam. All his cats had short. ordinary names like this.

My own family had a grey tabby which we called Stripey; a ginger tabby we called Ginger, and a black and white cat we called - have a guess - Black and White. Well, they had their own names in cat.

The cat love of my life - the cat you lit a candle for, Michelle, and thank you - was called Biffo, but he came pre-named. A former human companion (he had three) had named him after The Beano's boxing bear because he used to sit up on his hindquarters and punch other cats with his forepaws. So it was just another nickname that stuck.

Kathleen Jones said...

Lovely post Michelle - one of the things I loved about Southey was his flock of cats!
Mine is appropriately (since I'm called Kathy) named Heathcliff. And he is suitably aloof and inscrutable, though very attached to his owner. He's an old gentleman now, but quite wild in his youth.

Dorian said...

What an excellent collection of cats!

I name mine after characters in fantasy books; I have had Vanyel, Gandalf, Shia, Tazey, Teren, Magrat, Lujan, Arakasi, and Kyra. The current incumbents are Severus, Beric, and Margolotta.

(Incidentally, Horace Walpole's Patapan was not a cat, but a dog; he was fond of lapdogs as well as cats.)

Mary Hoffman said...

Of course I approve of the careful naming of cats!

But I think Hodge's oysters were not a delicacy in his day; I believe they were a food of the poor. Still nice of Sam Johnson to get them for him.

adele said...

Lovely! Our cat was called MIMI after Rosa Luxemburg's cat! Another was TOEY after Toey Tayfield the South African bowler...

Carol Drinkwater said...

What a fun post, Michelle. Like Caroline Lawrence, I am also not overly fond of cats. I am a doggie girl but, as other HGs have said, this was such a pleasure to read. I was fascinated to hear about the Hemingway six-toe oddity. And did Sands REALLY eat in the same bowl as her cat? Have a lovely Christmas and hope to see you soon Cx

Carol Drinkwater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Ergane said...

Vladimir I. Lenin had around 15-16 cats when he ruled the Soviet Union. This is the only good thing I can say about him; and, I am sorry that I don't know their names. However, there are stories about them lounging on his desk.

Ann Turnbull said...

Our cats have had fairly ordinary names on the whole, but when we acquired tabby siblings Judy and Punch we didn't like their names and re-named them Bonnie and Claude. We currently have Harley, who was named by her previous owner. Harley used to live next door but one to us; in the house between lived an adorable geriatric cat named Bongle.

Sue Purkiss said...

Like Carol, I'm a dog person. But what great names! I rather like Frost Eyebrows - it sounds a bit clunky, but it's very visual.

Lydia Syson said...

What a fantastic list - and one to come back to. Funnily enough, we used to have a cat named after Hepzibah in 'The Slave-girl from Jerusalem', so that completes the circle…unfortunately she made life miserable for an older resident, sixteen-year-old Titus (named after the Camberwell solicitor Titus Miranda, but often known as Titus Malitus, in homage to Slinky Malinki) so she now lives in solitary splendour elsewhere. And I've just named a cat in my new book after George Sand's cat Minou - though I did think it was a rather unimaginative name for a writer's cat. May yet change it, but that's the least of my rewriting problems...

Leslie Wilson said...

Lovely! I particularly like the martial-arts cats.
We have The Dog Matilda now, but we have had Tiger (inappropriately pre-named, she was black and white like Postman Pat's cat); Santa (claws) and Sasha, Honey (so we could say 'Hi, Honey, I'm home) and Treacle (who was black).
I know it is off-topic to talk about dogs, but when we got Matilda people kept asking if we'd REALLY call her that, or say: 'I suppose you call her Tilly.'
We call her Matilda; she is intelligent enough to know that is her name.

Leslie Wilson said...

Joint-locks is what some of the Japanese cats are doing, I think. Particularly the pair where paws are linked and one has a pained look on its face. I have forgotten the Chinese name for it, but it is part of aikido, and is the ultimate trust exercise, as too much pressure can break bones. The Tokyo police use it to subdue people. I do it, very gently, with my taiji teacher as she says the pressure when lightly applied is good for the joints..