musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Friday, January 05, 2007

what's in a name?

Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviar, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste —
He's sure to have his personal taste.

Sam sees a treat.
Sam wants a treat.

Sam gets his treat.

Sam enjoyed his treat.

(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he's finished, licks his paws
So's not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat's entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.

So this is this, and that is that:
And there's how you AD-DRESS A CAT.
excerpt from The Ad-dressing of Cats by T. S. Eliot

I'm often asked about Sam's name ... people seem to think it's a very plain name for such a character as he. But I tell them in all honesty: it's not my doing. This cat named himself.

It was a warm September afternoon back in 2002. I was on my way home from work and stopped at the local PETsMart to pick up a jar of Jazz-the-bird's favourite oats 'n groats birdseed. While I was there, I couldn't resist checking out the humane society adoption centre. I'd visited with J the previous weekend when the little room was full of adorable kittens but now all the cages stood empty. All but one, that is. Peering out at me was a big white cat with lopsided tabby patches on his face and a dark, striped tail that might have been borrowed from a raccoon. A chunk of his right ear was missing.

I looked at him. He looked at me. In the next instant, he hurled himself at the glass door, hitting it hard with his shoulder and yowling piteously. "Get me out of here!" he seemed to say.

What could I do? This was not the cuddly kitten J had wished for. This was a two-year-old brawler with a questionable past that included a failed adoption. But when the blue-smocked attendant opened the door and the big cat launched himself into my arms there was no turning back. An hour later I was loading the trunk with supplies: litter box and gravel, food, dishes, treats, toys, a fluffy bed, and a bright red collar*. I strapped the cat carrier into the front passenger seat, got behind the wheel and turned the key.

"We're going home," I said to the cat.

"Sam," said he.

And he kept right on saying "Sam" all the way home. A forty minute trip.

I figure he must have been trying to tell me his name because (a) when I said "Sam" back it seemed to calm him momentarily, and (b) he hasn't said it since.

As for T.S. Eliot's theory about cats needing three different names, well, I guess we've got the "sensible everyday name" covered. What could be more sensible than Sam? But we've been together over four years now and I'm a little worried that we still haven't discovered his second "particular" name:

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?
excerpt from The Naming of Cats by T. S. Eliot

It's possible, I suppose, that Sam doesn't want or need a "particular" name. (I sometimes think he's quite happy just to be called, Sir.) But I can't help wondering if he feels a bit envious of those cats with luxurious, mouth-filling, roll-off-the-tongue names like Pangur Ban or Ozymandias.

And what about his third name? I wonder if maybe he slipped up on that sunny, September day in 2002. Did stress loosen his catty tongue? Maybe "Sam" is that mysterious third name. The "deep and inscrutable singular Name" ... the one we humans aren't supposed to know.


Sam will be name-dropping on the Friday Ark, at Sunday's Carnival of the Cats (hosted this week at Leslie's Omnibus), and at Weekend Catblogging.

* And birdseed. I didn't forget the birdseed!


At 2:10 am, Blogger burekaboy — said...

sam .... a perfectly sensible name, indeed! and with such a refined palate, lol. potted grouse & caviar — probably on every cat's wishlist :P

your story reminds me of exactly how i got my former cat. he made it well-known HE had chosen us [at the spca] with very loud meowing and similar hurling. after he was taken out of the cage he jumped right into our arms. (i'm still hoping he didn't do it to everyone!) once we got him home, he simply jumped out of the box and layed himself down on the floor as if he had lived with us his whole life!

At 9:47 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

I guess our cats know what Grandma knew... some things are just meant to be. ;-)

(As for Sam's "refined" palate, he's more a rice chips 'n yoghurt kinda guy. His most exotic taste is fresh cantaloupe.)

At 11:41 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our Otis grabbed onto my husband's scarf 2 years ago at PetSmart's adoption center and hasn't let go since. His brother, Milo, was much more shy but seemed to like when I petted him and the same is still true 2 years later. Already came named but they fit perfectly and they know them and of course we have many other names for them - some that can't be repeated ; )

At 1:48 pm, Blogger Aloysius said...

That's a wonderful adoption story! You and Sam were obviously meant to meet, and I don't blame him for telling you his name right off the bat.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

--Aloysius Pangur Ban

At 11:54 pm, Blogger Pamela said...

Hi Ostara,

Liked reading your story of how you and Sam were introduced!

I do like rice chips n' yogurt kinda cats too!

At 8:31 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Mrs. Brainwise: I was surprised that Sam hadn't been named - at two years, you'd expect it. Unfortunately, I believe his life before he came to me was not a happy one. Some of his reactions in the first year suggest he may have been abused by his first humans. Definitely glad we found each other!

Aloysius: Meant to stop by and leave you a note about the link but you beat me to it. Thanks for visiting. :-)

Pammie: His favourite people snack is ranch flavoured rice tortilla chips. The slightest crinkling of a bag brings him running.

At 12:27 pm, Blogger burekaboy — said...

i wonder if there is something in certain foods, like canteloupe. my other cat would go INSANE whenever he smelled it and we actually had to hide it. one day i forgot a piece on the counter and found it on the floor punctured with millions of little holes, tattered beyond belief :) what a sight! [fresh coriander was another favoured item.] strange.

At 1:20 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Interesting theory burekaboy.

Sam's extremely fond of fresh strawberries, too, but cantaloupe is right up there with catnip.

It must be a common cat love, because there's a popular childrens' book called The Cantaloupe Cat, by Jan Yager. I bought it for, I mean, I bought it for my grandkids. We've all enjoyed reading it. Info at Amazon:

At 4:30 pm, Blogger Pamela said...

Hi Ostara,

Hmm, ranch chips, yummo...Sam and me have the same taste.

Shame have you met the Heartful Blogger yet, her cat Caesar just passed away, have a look at her lovely and sad watercolour of him.

At 10:56 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for pointing me to the Heartful Blogger. It's very sad about Caesar. I spent some time looking at all her paintings and sketches of him - he must have been a real character. (My favourite is from November last year, "his mind-powered tunafish getter-atter". Too funny!)

At 11:59 am, Blogger sammawow said...

I have really enjoyed your pictures of Sam and these were just wonderful. And I love the story of Sam's name. I have always felt like China Cat & Willow picked me. You wrote such a nice story I think that I will read it again!

At 4:23 am, Blogger Rahel Jaskow said...

What a wonderful adoption story. Please give Sam some petting, skritches and cuddles from me.

At 4:36 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

Great Story Cheryl. You know how Jay got his name. Somehow I think they name themselves one way or the other. I love that he threw himself into your arms at the store. It was meant to be.


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