The Naming of Cats

posted in: Edward Gorey, T. S. Eliot | 6

Today’s poem in our calendar comes from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, illustrated by Edward Gorey.

The Naming Of Cats by T. S. Eliot

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
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, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s 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, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
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 never will guess;
The name 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 a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

The cat we call Fishfinger, but as he’s not our cat (he belongs to one of our neighbours though we don’t know which one) we don’t know what he’s called at home, let alone what he calls himself.

6 Responses

  1. Have you read the picture book Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore or Scallywag by Jeannette Rowe? Both of these picture books are about a pet cat that does the rounds of a number of houses and has a different name at each. I love TS Eliot’s ‘cat’ poems and also love that many of them have now been published as stand alone picture books by Arthur Robins. It means that my students can read and love the poems at a very young age.

  2. Fishfinger is adorable. And to add to Victoria’s list–Archie Snufflekins Cat by Katie Harnett!

    • We’re off to a bookshop today Anamaria so I’ll take a look at this (it’s not in our library system).

  3. it’s not our cat Umberleigh, because he’s a Devon Rex – grey curled hair with some white bits, quite distinctive (and non-allergenic). But he has ‘homes’ around the neighbourhood, and is greeted by people two streets away when he comes for a walk with us. There’s a little girl who goes to her grandma’s every Thursday in the next street, and he is there to meet her each time. And an elderly woman who lives alone in hte next street on the other side who keeps a special chair on her back porch for him, but never feeds him she assures us. She is convinced he loves her better than his own family, and she lives alone and needs people who love her, so we don’t attempt to disillusion her… He doess spend many nights on our bed (but not all – it’s important to keep your humans guessing)

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