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May-June 2009
The Naming of Cats

   Ulrich's Bimonthly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The difficult art of naming cats  Five years have passed since I introduced to you Petu and Hermi, the two cats with whom my wife and I are living together; perhaps you remember the story of "Petu's dream or the bridge to heaven" (Ulrich, 2004). They are still with us and we adore them as much as ever; but meanwhile, the family has grown. It's about time I update you! We have had four new arrivals since: one is a new permanent member of our household; one died; and the other two are Visiting faculty members, as it were. Visiting, because they regularly spend time with us and have a free subscription for food at out place; faculty, because they teach us so much about ourselves and the world, about the art of life, and perhaps (I suspect) even about academic work.

To those visitors who return to the Bimonthly to see the continuation of the "Reflections on Reflective Practice" series, I would like to apologize; I have been too busy these past few weeks to even start writing the planned next contribution on Habermas. But perhaps this is to the good; some of you may share my feeling that after the rather long and demanding essays of the last year or so – on applied science and expertise, Karl Popper and Donald Schön, faith and practical reason, and finally, on Aristotle and Kant – we need (and certainly deserve) a creative break.

Let me make a virtue of necessity, then, and proudly introduce to you Mini, Skipy, Abi, and Flor, in addition to Petu and Hermi (whom you already know). Their names may sound strange to you, but I assure you we have selected these names very carefully in an effort to do justice to each cat, and we feel they do! I'll say a little more about the difficult business of naming cats in a moment, but first I would like to get you acquainted with Mini & Co.

 

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Mini, Visiting faculty member lecturing us about the art of lifeMini is the artist of life par excellence. He is the kind of cat who always gets the best sleeping place, has most fun, and enjoys himself while others are bored. Although actually our neighbor's cat, he decided it was more fun to spend most of his day in our house and garden, where due to the sheer number of feline friends and family members there is always something going on. In addition, the food is good value and plenty, and there is also plenty of TLC (tender loving care). Mini's name is really Rudi, but when he first arrived in our garden we didn't know that. As he was cute, small, and incredibly agile, we named him (the) Mini. Interestingly, the fact that he spends much of his time with us has not strained our good relationship with our dear neighbour but has improved it further; shared parenthood offers so many opportunities for meaningful conversation! I also enjoy many meaningful conversations with Mini Himself, as he has made it a habit to watch the evening news on TV with me, sometimes followed by an interesting TV discussion or documentary or, even better from his feline point of view, a good football game or tennis match. When the game is good, he never takes his eye off the ball; but when it's not so good, he sleeps on my lap while I continue to watch for the sole purpose of not disturbing his holy sleep.

 

 

Skipy, died from Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) in 2008 but lives on in our heartsSkipy was a homeless young cat that one day showed up in our garden running straight towards us. He was a shy but hungry little featherweight (whence his name) eagerly devoring the cat biscuits we offered him. He apparently had no place to go, stayed in our garden day and night and eventually adopted a cardboard box below a garden table as his temporary home, while we searched for his owners in all ways we could think of, distributing leaflets with his picture in the neighborhood, consulting with our veterinary, the local animal home and the regional animal protection, as well as registering him in the national web site for lost and found pets, and so on, but in vain. Eventually we decided to undertake the formal registration procedure that is now required in Switzerland before you are allowed to adopt a stray cat or dog. During the three months this took, Skipy slowly overcame his original shyness and began to enter our house, making friends with Petu, Mini, and Hermi. He turned out to be a little angel of a cat – very, very sweet, but unfortunately also very ill. Before a year was over, he started to eat less and less and became increasingly apathetic; he was suffering from Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), an illness for which there is no cure. All we could do was to accompany him while he was slowly fading away, getting slimmer and weaker, until in a summer night of last year he died. We buried him in our garden and he lives on in our hearts as the sweet and innocent little angel that he was. Being a cat lover can be difficult at times!

 

 

 

 

 

Abi, the inscrutable Visiting Hieronymus who has a free subscription for food (an "abonnement") in our house Abi is one of our Visiting faculty members. His inscrutable character and ineffable teachings would really call for a much more dignified name, perhaps a double name such as Bromberius Borromini or Hieronymus Hieroglyphus, or something of the sort. But we call him simply "Abi," as his generally neglected state motivated us to offer him a free subscription for F&B (food and beverage) at our place; subscription in French is "Abonnement," whence comes the diminutive "Abi."

 

 

Flor is our little flower girl from Venezuela ("flor" = flower in Spanish). She was severely injured, with a broken ankle and a big open wound and nobody caring for her, when my wife found her vegetating in a garden center of her home city in the Andes Mountains of Venezuela.

Flor, our little flower girl from Venezuela

When my wife asked the shop owner about her, he made it clear he did not care and emphasized his words by throwing a stone after her (Flor, not my wife). After a short negotiation, he allowed my wife to take Flor to the veterinary and take care of her, while processing the papers required for exporting her to Switzerland. After her long trip over the Atlantic, the poor thing had to undergo surgery and another anesthesia since and still needs to see the animal hospital every week, as her leg requires further treatment; even so she is a happy and playful little girl, glued to her adoptive mother (my wife) and spending the day playing, determined not to let her handicap stop her from enjoying life.

 

 

Hermi, who teaches us so much about the capacity to bear suffering Hermi and Petu, finally, are our two older pets whom I introduced to you five years ago (see "Petu's dream"). As Petu is starring in this Bimonthly's main picture (see below), let's remember Hermi first and (re-)introduce him to you, lest he should feel disadvantaged. Hermi deserves being treated with respect, as he is the noblest little cat-soul you might imagine. He is so decent and considerate in his behavior that he never ever disturbs his adoptive parents or his feline brothers and sisters, and they in turn treat him accordingly, with due respect and consideration. Having lived with us for over seven years now, he still does not allow us to touch him, yet he looks at us in a way that tells us he appreciates everything we offer him. He is suffering from a chronic inflammation of the gums and that makes eating difficult for him. "Hermi" comes from the old Germanic verb "härmen," which means as much as feeling grief and sorrow and is related to the English "harm"; we chose the name because he has been suffering from poor health ever since he has been with us. We also chose the name in recognition of the fact that he is Petu's first brother ("hermano" = Spanish for brother).

Hermi is the exact opposite of Mini and Flor. Cautious and phlegmatic in his manners, he prefers to observe the course of events carefully before taking any decision, and be it only whether to venture out into the garden or rather take a little nap. Playing cat-and-mouse games is definitely not his thing, as little as climbing trees and chasing birds or other childish diversions of the sort. He is the philosopher among our cats, meditating long hours about everything he observes and probably also about why it is that he is "Hermi," the suffering brother, rather than "Flor" (a Latin flower girl) or "Mini" (an agile artist of life). I suspect he has understood and accepted long since that every cat's fate is different, no less than fates are different in our human world. Some cats are luckier than others; but (as I trust he knows) those not so lucky may be (and often are) just as dear and noble souls and deserve as much respect and love from others, which in his case is surely true.

Petu, the other philosopher with metaphysical talent  If there is a second philosopher among our cats, it is no doubt Petu. You may wonder about his unusual name – no, it's not Esperanto – but that is a different story. All I can say here is that Petu isn't really Petu! His true name (if there is such a thing) was Petunia, for he was supposed to be a girl. But of course he wasn't a girl and so we had to change his name! We were disappointed at first, as we had spent much care in selecting that original name, and in fact I had already planned to write a children's book about all the adventures of his early life and its title would be The Adventures of Petunia! But we realized naming a cat is about doing justice to Him, not to please us, and so he became "Petu." The name must be right though, as with hindsight we certainly cannot imagine Petu to be called Petunia. What a ridiculous, utterly unfitting name that would have been in view of his serious and pensive character – his metaphysical talent, I am tempted to say!

But as I have just said, it's a different story. There is so much to tell about the philosophical side of our cats, as well as about the art of naming these beautiful creatures properly, that entering upon this topic seriously would mean to miss my aim of giving us a break from all those long Bimonthy essays of recent months. May I refer you to a competent source instead? The prime source I recommend is T.S. Eliot's (1939) Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. To judge from my years with cats, there is no more concise and valid introduction to feline philosophy.

You don't know how to address cats? Haven't heard about British railway cats? Or pondered whether your cat's name is right? Consult these poems and you'll have taken a good first step toward understanding such issues. Here is my preferred poem from Practical Cats; may it serve you as a summary of all the ineffable things that ought to be said about the art of naming cats but which I obviously have been quite unable to explain in the preceding short paragraphs.

 

 

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, or 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.

(Source: Eliot, 1962, p. 11)

P.S.  Any similarity you might observe between the art of naming cats and that of academic writing is unintended and purely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

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References

Eliot, T.S. (1939). Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. London: Faber and Faber. (The quoted soft cover edition was published by Faber and Faber in 1962.)

Ulrich, W. (2004). Petu's dream or: the bridge to heaven. Picture of the Month, March 2004.
[HTML] 
http://wulrich.com/picture_march2004.html .

 

Picture data  Digital photograph taken on 10 May 2008, around 7:30 p.m. ISO 100, exposure mode aperture priority, exposure time 1/25 seconds, aperture f/3.5, exposure bias 0.00, focal length 20 mm (equivalent to 40 mm with a conventional 35 mm camera). Original resolution 3648 x 2736 pixels; current resolution 700 x 525 pixels, compressed to 110 KB.

May-June, 2009

'But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular' (Petu pondering over His name and the world)

 The naming of cats

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter.”

(Thomas Stearns Eliot, in his poem "The Naming of Cats," Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, 1939)

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Links last updated 12 Nov 2009, text 7 May 2009 (first published 5 May 2009)
http://wulrich.com/bimonthly_may2009.html

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