The Naming of Cats

I've always loved The Naming of Cats, the poem by T.S. Eliot.

One of a series of cat poems written for his Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, this poem considers the difficulty of naming our feline friends and suggests they should actually have three, different names.

As if finding one weren't already difficult enough! (My own cat has two names - and possibly a third - but more about that later).

Coming up with three different ideas for cat names might be a bit of a stretch, particularly if you're naming several cats.

Unusual Names

The Old Possum poems were written in the 1930s for T.S. Eliot's godchildren and friends, and contain many unusual and funny cat names.

These include Mr. Mistoffelees, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, Skimbleshanks, Jennyanydots, Bustopher Jones and Rum Tum Tugger.

As you can tell, T.S. Eliot was pretty good at naming cats himself.

His book and poems were the basis for the extremely successful stage musical 'Cats' by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, which features the hit song Memory, made famous by Elaine Paige.

The poem below is, of course, featured in the musical.

The Naming of Cats

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
Deep and inscrutable singular Name

About Those Three Names

My own cat, as I said earlier, has more than one name.

When we first got him from the Rescue, we had no idea what to call him, so he spent a few days without a 'real' name before we decided on Bandit, because he looks like he's wearing a mask.

We had to call him something in the meantime, so he was affectionately nicknamed Munchkin, and that, of course, immediately got shortened to Munchie. Which was quite appropriate, really - he does love to eat!

The nickname stuck, so although on his adoption papers he's officially named Bandit (which gives him a certain dignity among the local cat fraternity) he'll always be known as Munchie to us.

But I've never discovered whether he knows himself by that all-important, third, name ...

So, if at any time you see your cat apparently deep in thought, you'll now know, as T.S. Eliot said, exactly what he's thinking about!

More Cats in Literature

Some of the articles and newsletters on this site may contain links to products I think you may enjoy. If you purchase through these links I receive a small commission, but there's no extra cost to you. Find out more on the
Affiliates Disclosure page.

Have You Discovered Our Newsletter?

If not, why not? Subscribe to our email newsletter, Meezer Musings, to stay in touch, be the first to see new information and pages as they come out, and read the things we only talk about in the newsletter.

Learn more about it on our Newsletter Sign-Up page.