Talking to my mom by phone one evening I was sidetracked by my cat, Forest. I spoke to him with his full name, “Forest Horatio Maxwell Fluffy Bottom,” and my mom responded with a dramatic, “What?!”
I had to explain myself. I’m not sure why I had to explain because I think my whimsical use of names stems from my childhood when my mom used to call me many monikers, including “Boo boo bear” and “Pumpkin.” My father was just as zany with names, especially if he couldn’t remember one of our pet’s names. He’d just make one up, such as “Hortense,” “Fudge nut” or “Buttercup” and we would have to figure out who he was referring to.
We tend to name our pets based on a variety of factors, such as what they look like, who they act like, maybe a cartoon creature or movie character. The crazy pseudonyms seem to mutate from the base name and just stick.
For example, Forest was originally named Streeter because he was found on the streets of Chicago as an orphaned kitten. The shelter that rescued him named him Streeter and I changed it to Forest. The name Forest was fitting as two of my senior cats died within one month of each other right before I met him. I find peace in the forest, and Forest brought me a sense of peace from my mourning.
Today he has many names including For-is-ti-cuff, For-is-ti-cuff-ca-leena, For-meister, Forie, Cream of For-ina, Cream of For-ina Wheat-a, Fuzz, Hairy, Monkey Butt and the aforementioned Forest Horatio Maxwell Fluffy Bottom.
I also have two other cats, Captain Jack Sparrow and Joan of Arc, and one dog, Trucker.
Jack appeared at a friend’s house along with his littermates and mom. I spotted the little black-and-white kitten (Jack) under a bush, fixated on sparrows sitting in the branches above him. I noted to my friend that he was a cutie and several days later my friend called to say she had the kitten and wanted me to take him.
Initially I named him Sparrow because of his love of the birdies. Shamans also say that sparrows are spirit messengers that teach us how to “find your soul song.”
Eventually, Sparrow’s name evolved into Captain Jack Sparrow after the lead character in the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean.
Since then his name has mutated into a variety of oddities such as Jackie, Jack-ita, Flap Jack, Lumber Jack, Hungry Jack, Apple Jack, Cracker Jack, Black Jack, Jack-a-lope, Jack-ita, Sparrow-diferous, Jackie Sparrow Ditticus and Jackie Sparrow Deeta.
Joan of Arc presented herself to me while I was driving one evening. I saw two lumps in the road and straddled them with my car tires. When I passed over them, I noticed one lump (Joan) looking up at me with wide, terrified eyes. I stopped instantly and jumped out to save her.
Joan’s sibling was deceased beside her, probably hit by another car. Joan hissed at me with all her 1-pound might. I tucked her into my coat and rushed her home.
I named her Joan of Arc because of her determination and strength to live through anything.
I generally address her with Joanie or Jay, but sometimes I use the following: Joan-ita, Jay Bird, Bird-ita, Birditicus, Bird-iferous, Birdie, Joanie Baloney, Icky Tail and Joan of Arc-a-paleena.
Trucker came into my life at the age of 5 with his name. He was adopted from a shelter and had been abandoned many times prior, mostly due to anxiety issues. He was named Trucker as a puppy by the first man who rescued him. Trucker had been thrown out of a semi-truck cab.
Before he came into my life I had a dream where I heard the name Josiah. I researched the name and realized it is a Biblical name meaning “saved by God.” That seemed fitting for Trucker, so Josiah became his middle name.
Today he is known by Tater, Tater Head, T, Truck, Josie, Josiah, Trucker Jo, Tootie, Josie Bear and the extended formal name of Trucker Josiah Toot Toot Tater Head.
I often call my pets by names other than ones I gave them. Amazingly, they each answer to their pseudonyms. I think that they hear the vowel sounds most of all and come running. They also listen to the tone of my voice and respond accordingly.
When I’m around other people’s pets I also tend to change their pet’s names. I find it fun to guess what a pet’s name is before I’m introduced. I guess names based on personality and markings. When I disclose my thoughts, owners usually laugh.
One circumstance that brought me laughter was meeting a blue merle female Great Dane walking with her owner into a pet supply store. When I asked the owner her name, I expected something regal like Cleopatra but was met with a subtle, “Buttercup.”
A copy of a Mutts comic strip is tacked to my refrigerator and illustrates my name changing addiction. In that strip a girl is holding a foster kitten and says the shelter named him Brutus but she was calling him “Lovey Cakes.”
Recently I overheard my brother talking to black kittens that were feral rescues and my family kept. Their names are Rascal, Sweetpea, Bashful and George. Comically my brother transformed two of their names to Rascal-eeze (like Hercules) and Bash-acles (like tentacles) and had me laughing out loud.
At least I know that I’m not alone in this name–changing behavior.
I also realize that if I had a child of my own they’d never know their real name.