the naming of catsPosted: January 11, 2008
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that my name’s not really Starr Hill Girl. Starr Hill’s where I live. And I am a girl – by biology and by identity. But I do have a Real Name. Which I am not going to reveal to you, so don’t get all excited.
I’ve got the usual three names on my birth certificate, first, middle and last. The first name is reasonably gender-neutral, which was annoying when I was a kid, but I’m damn happy with now. My middle name is from a Bob Dylan song. Yes. You can take it up with my mother. I’m also pretty happy with it, although it was a bitch to learn to spell. I’m generally called by my first name. With some divergent exceptions: my family, my very close friends, some old school theater people, and the internet often or always call me by a combination of my first and middle names.
Now when I say my family, I mean almost all of them: cousins, my maternal grandparents (salut, Grandpa), most all of my aunts and uncles and my parents. It must have started when I was too tiny to remember, this two-fer name of mine that makes me sound like a somewhat progressive southern stereotype. They don’t all call me this consistently, but I think of it first and foremost as my family name.
When I was just out of high school, I had a great and long term babysitting job for a little boy we’ll call David, because that was his name. He lived with his mama, who had become my good friend, in one of the dependencies of an estate south of town. The people who owned the estate sent their son to my high school and so he and I were friends, and they had some theater friends of mine living in another dependency (where the hell am I going with this?), so I was there a lot, as were the vast majority of what was then the downtown arts community of my town. Anyway. David’s father did not live with him and the visitation situation was sketchy at best and the father had the same first name as me. Which lead to great disappointment and rock throwing one day when he’d been told that “C_____ is coming over today,” and it was me and not his dad. He was young – 2 1/2 at the time and so his mom and I simply changed what he called me. To my family name. It was cute; he put the accent on the first name, not the second as most people do. And it stuck and there were no more rocks (although there were other tantrums – the kid was kind of a mess at that point). And everybody on the estate began to call me that, too – the kid had the run of the place, which was so great. And all the downtown art kids of yesteryear began to call me that, too (because I used to be out and about, doing things other than trying to knock myself up – ah, youth). Now do you see where I was going with all that?
I began referring to myself with both names as it became more common to hear myself called that outside of family. But I didn’t, and still don’t, introduce myself as anything other than my first and last name. I go by my first name at work (don’t get me started on why I want my kids to be on a first name basis with me) as well as most other non-home places, and I’m slightly surprised when somebody I don’t know well calls me by my two-name name. In terms of the currency of intimacy, that shit’s expensive, yo. I’ve got to know I love you before I expect to hear my family name come out of your mouth.
But. My family name, this two-fer pet name, is what I go by on the internets. Interesting, no? Almost all my on-line stuff is with that name – with the exception of sykpe, which is the old Starr Hill deal (so now you can skype me – yay!) for no real reason except that’s how I started a bunch of accounts. So all these folks in the internet, my invisible friends, call me by the name that I have until recently used only with people I’m close to. It’s like a sort of instant intimacy, which is appropriate since so many of you hear in great detail about my CM and amazing color-changing boobs.
I don’t use any version , pet or other wise, of my real name on my blog because I don’t want somebody to be able to easily search by my name and find me – the same reason I don’t name my town, even though I’ll link to things that will name it. I try not to use other folks’ real names either, because I’m not sure I’ve got the right to do that. Plus acronym-able nicknames are fun! Sophie is clearly an exception to this, in part because the thought of going back and changing all those posts with her name makes me want to put an ice pick in my spleen, and also because there are a million girls her age with that name (really – I know of 5 just in my circles of people). I might change my tune about this at some point, however, and go edit all those posts, ice pick in hand.
Names and their variations are fascinating to me. Why do you call yourself what you do? Why were you called that, or something else, by the people who first named you? The people who named you after that?
The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m mad as a hatter
When I tell you a cat must have three
First of all, there’s the name
that the family use daily,
Such as Victor, or Jonathan,
George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names
if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen,
some for the dames;
Such as Plato, Admetus,
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you,
a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that is peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he
keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers,
or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind,
I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quazo or Coripat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellyrum–
Names that never belong
to more than one cat.
But above and beyond
there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you will never guess;
that no human research can discover–
But The Cat Himself Knows,
and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought,
of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
(We can give our thanks to Eliot here, of course, but you’ll have to imagine my dad ‘s voice reading this to me, as that was the way I first heard it one night before bed when I was very small.)