The naming of animals and other parts

Since the Horace episode, when the Colissimo parcels delivery service exhorted me to name the parcel I was expecting before they would let me be privy to its whereabouts, I have been thinking quite a lot about names. There was a time when names were quite straightforward; there was the Bible for Protestants and the saints’ calendar for Catholics.

Times though have changed, and it is now permissible to burden a child with any assortment of consonants and vowels that sound attractive or at least original to someone’s ear, the only hard and fast rule being that you must use the Roman alphabet.

When I was in the maternity hospital with my first child, there was a rather surreal episode when the official from the town hall came round to register the new babies. The girl I shared a room with was Chinese origin and didn’t speak any French. The whole family was brought in to get the baby’s name sorted out. The official explained to one of the female family members who was delegated as spokeswoman, that he needed to know the child’s name. The baby’s auntie told him—a name about three minutes long in Chinese. He shook his head and asked her to write it down. She did. In Chinese. He asked her to write it in French. After a long time and a group effort, she produced the three-minute long name in Roman letters. The official wanted to know where the first names ended and the family name began. Nobody understood what he meant. There was another long confabulation after which another name was added at the beginning, that the proud father pronounced with a beaming smile, “Gwendolyn”.

Gwendolyn struck me as a rather off beat name for a child who was going to be brought up in an exclusively Chinese-speaking household, but the official from the town hall thought it was a splendid name. To my mind, Horace is a perfectly reasonable name for a cat that is, let’s be honest, horrible. I’ve known of cats called Maureen and Desmond, Mickey and Caledonia, and dogs called Rosie, Myrtle, and Jason. All perfectly honourable names for pets and people.

In France though, people don’t usually give their pets names like…names. They call them after edibles : Chocolate, Liquorice, Nougat, Cinnamon and Cookie. I even know a dog called Sandwich. There are an awful lot of dogs with names that supposedly reflect their character that translate roughly as Yob or Hooligan, Villain or Crook. A brown dog of our acquaintance bought as a Dachshund but which has grown four normal length legs is called, appropriately enough, Joker. There are a lot of very strange names around too: next door has a tomcat called Isis, Finbar has a friend called Virus, and there’s one that he avoids called Tonsillitis. A friend has a new puppy called Lampshade (The breeder chose it, and my friend hasn’t thought it weird enough to change), and we also know a Golden Retriever called Cube, a rather sad and inappropriate name in my opinion.

The names we have given our own animals, of course are eminently suitable. Jackson, the Siamese, Finbar the dog, Branwell and Raymond the tabby cats, and Trixie who is unclassifiable and has never really qualified for a normal name. The Little Cat is just that. However, many people consider pets’ names that fall outside the Biscuit and Goulash category to be extraordinary. When I wanted to change a password for Internet access from a string of letters and digits to something more manageable, I tried to use Raymond. It wouldn’t work and I couldn’t reset it, so I had to go through an operator. She asked me for the password that wouldn’t work. I told her, Raymond. There was a distinct hesitation.
Operator: Raymond ?
Me: That’s right.
Operator: Most people use the name of a pet, not a…person.
Me: Raymond is the cat’s name.
Another hesitation.
Operator: You called your cat Raymond?
Me: That’s right. Is that a problem?
Third hesitation followed by a sigh.
Operator: No, you can call your cat what you like, I suppose. It’s just…I have an uncle called Raymond.

I was glad I hadn’t asked to use Branwell.

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Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

17 thoughts on “The naming of animals and other parts”

      1. I hadn’t thought of Goulash, but..hmm… I have the same name my father and his father had. It never seemed like it was my name. Sometimes when people ask me my name I stammer and find it hard to spit it out. So..

      2. I’ve always thought there’s a good deal of self-satisfaction in naming a child after oneself. To name a child after a close relative as a mark of respect, love, or whatever is one thing, but simply to hand down one’s own name is just a little bit arrogant. I know it’s not intended that way, but that’s the way it looks. Let me know what you decide on.

  1. Wonderful, entertaining post, Jane! Names are so important. Can’t imagine calling a pet after a food… Sausage, Ketchup, Marmite. It’s just wrong. But very funny. Cube, however, is just sad, and somehow so , well, degrading to the poor animal.

    1. Cube is just nonsensical. His owners seem more concerned about making him the heaviest Golden Retriever on record than a happy companion. Each time I see them they tell me how much he weighs now. It’s maybe a good thing they don’t have children! Another nonsense name I’ve come across is Ginger for a black mongrel. You wonder sometimes.

  2. Thank you for these insights into pet names, especially in France. I’ll have to forward this to a dog loving Friend in Paris.
    ll our pet names are pretty sedate although we had an Angel fish which kept eating other fish and was called “Judas”.
    xx Rowena

      1. Now that you’ve challenged me perhaps. Judas did get his day in court and ended up swimming upside down before finally dying. Im not the fish person in the house but I think his sink bladder went.

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