Some Thoughts on the Naming of Animals

by Jim Farrar (1984)

We used to have a cat named Midnight. We named him that because he had beautiful long black hair, dark as the night and not a speck of white on it. The name fit, he was a Midnight.

Today, we have a cat whom we call Rustle, though everyone thinks we spell it Russell. We don't. We call him Rustle because, well, that's what he does. He's always moving and, gosh, just by looking at him you can tell he's a Rustle.

Serious business, this naming of pets. Those that care about their animals put a lot of thought into what they name them. Even if you have a dog, and you name him Spot or Rover, then I think it's safe to assume--or at least I hope--that the name is given for good reason, even if it's just to be funny via the shopworn cliché.

My cousin has a cat named Scratch, which is a name that I really admire. It shows creativity and, when you get right down to it, doesn't it really describe a cat quite well?

Now that I think about it, this is really a very silly subject I'm writing about. That's why I'm not going to think about it too deeply. It's more entertaining than it is anything else, really, to think about and remember the names of various pets and to connect the personality of the animal (or the owner) to the mental image that is drawn from the name. Pretty soon, it seems that the image and the animal blend and, when that happens, I associate the name with and draw my memories from all the Spots, Snoopies, Midnights, Morrises, and Rovers that I have known.

And I have known them. I guess you might call it animal semantics or something, but, like we do with people, we associate certain personalities with certain names. And like most people, pets tend to live up to their handle. I've known two women named Bertha and neither one of them has been what you'd call petite. By the same token, neither have I known too many French Poodles named Spike or Fido.

This naming business is especially apropos when it comes to horses. One of the things that I liked most about Larry McMurtry's novel about the 19th century American West, Lonesome Dove, were the brief passages about the horses. More specifically, I liked the names he gave his horses. A reader gets a strong sense of character, a good feeling for these animals, just by reading those names, names like the Hell Bitch, Mudpie, Memphis, and Mouse, all of which are good "horse" names, names which ring true.

So what is the point here? I don't know. I've gone from cats to dogs to horses, while throwing Bertha in for good measure, and I'm not sure if I've even elaborated on my thesis statement, or if indeed I even have a thesis statement. I guess we've got a variation on the old tail-wagging-the-dog thing here, kind of a topic-wagging-the-writer situation.

No matter. All I can come up with are names of pets and farm animals, names that tend to run from either cute to descriptive. I guess animals, like people, generally get the name they deserve.

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