Monday, January 14, 2008

The Name Game

This news item caught my attention on our local news recently. First of all, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever harbor a snake that is 24 feet long and "as thick as a telephone pole." This monster, a reticulated python, should be killed immediately. If not sooner. The Columbus Zoo is asking for trouble placing it on permanent display while it is still alive. This thing eats "two huge rabbits a week." May I remind everyone that"rabbits" means "bunnies."
Allow me to provide a visual aid:

Perhaps the Columbus Zoo hopes to soften the blow when it displays the snake's name. For this vicious bunny-eating slitherer goes by...Fluffy. Yes. Fluffy the Reticulated Python.

I'll admit it. The name is fantastic. If I were going to have a 24-foot long reticulated python, I'd consider naming it Fluffy, for it is the very antithesis of all things snaky. But when it comes to naming pets, I usually opt for people names. There's something very dignified and familial about having a dog or cat or guinea pig with a person name. I just like it. And I like the name to be literary, usually, unless the animal in question has so much overt personality that the name is just apparent.

As many readers of the Dept. know, my most recent pets are Emily and Travis, two cats. Sadly, Travis is no longer with us, but Emily still dodders around, toothless, half-blind, and arthritic. There were no silly kitty-witty names even considered for either feline. Never once were names like Mittens, Whiskers, Scratch, or Mr. Freckles even brought up. Or any boring, dumb names like Brownie, Patches, or the uninspired Kitty.

And please, please, please spare me "Boo Boo Kitty."

I could vomit. A lot. On myself.

My friend Roger thinks everyone should test pet names by going to the front door and yelling for the prospective pet, loudly, several times. If you feel stupid or it sounds just plain idiotic, then it's not a good name. He has a huge Labrador. Its name is Newman, after the lackadaisical mailman on Seinfeld. Roger says that the name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy since Newman now does very little except sigh and loll around a lot. This summer, he may get Newman a pet puppy and see if that turns things around a bit.

Jared, my eldest son, thinks that "Pushbutton" would be a great name for a bunny. I would have to see the bunny in order to decide. I like the name "Robert" for a small, brown boy bunny. I have yet to meet any small, brown boy bunny that did not look like a "Robert."

My pet peeve with zoos is that they get all carried away with naming baby animals in the language of their native country. Then we get stuck with all these terrible names that are sometimes hard to pronounce and get attached to. Also, the names really don't suit the baby animals. One exception to this is Knut, the baby polar bear from the Berlin Zoo.

He looks like a Knut, and it's not hard to pronounce.

Now there's a brand new baby polar bear at the Nuremberg Zoo who was rescued from her mom who zookeepers feared might try to eat her (!), and a naming contest is already underway. Naturally, a bunch of loser names have already been submitted: Franka, Lina, Snowwhite, Yuki Chan. I like "Elinor." I have already watched video of this baby polar bear and looked at photos. This is an "Elinor" if I've ever seen one. Trust me.

I have a backyard fishpond and I have several fish in it. Every summer, I end up having to replace at least one fish due to a predator, the harsh winter, or the fact that someone just can't get with the program and keeps ending up in the skimmer/filter. So, I have to come up with at least one new name each year. One year, I briefly flirted with the idea of naming a fish after a national monument, just for the hell of it. But I couldn't find a fish that looked like one. Current pond residents are: Iron Chef, Johnny Depp, Nancy Grace, Garbo, Ziploc, and Tupperware. Those last two names do bear some explaining, I realize. See, they were leftover table decorations from a school dance, the theme of which was "Under the Sea." Leftover fish...get it? I am still in mourning over the death of Barnabas, the black fantail who kept ending up in the skimmer. I think the weight of his head, due to his huge popeyes, just kept pulling him in with the current. What a way to go. But he had the coolest name.
Update: After receiving more than 30,000 emails with more than 50,000 suggestions, the baby polar bear's name is..."Flocke", which is German for "Flake." What a loser name. This kid is now destined to be a flake--an eccentric screwball, someone who is pretty much on the fringes of civilized society, like Phil Spector or Dennis Kucinich or Sandra Lee, the Semi-Homemade chick on the Food Network. Whatever. "Flocke" will always be "Elinor" to me.


  1. Nancy8:57 AM

    Hi Nance,

    I love cats,too, and agree they deserve a nice name that suits their looks or personality.

    I once had an Italian friend of mine give me a kitten who I called Al Nespoli. Al was with me for years.

    Later, I had a cat who looked exactly like Ryan O'Neal so his name was Oliver.

    I had a black and white kitty once . He was mostly white but had a black mustache and a bad black comb-over. Naturally, I named him Adolph.I really loved that cat and had him for a long time. Then we moved across town and A didn't like the new place and ran away.

    The last cat I had was so beautiful she would melt your heart and her name was Annabelle Lee . I still miss her.

    I have no kitty at the moment and miss the companionship and the purring.


  2. My brother had a cat named "Vlad." I always thought that was cool.

    Eons ago, we had a succession of cats "Kokomo", "Smokey", "Shadow", and "Rufus."

    Punkin brought home a tadpole at the end of school one year -- that was Rosey. The next pet was a Beta fish named "Rainbow." Sadly, both are no longer with us.

  3. Iron Chef has been around awhile! My boyfriend's hamster is named Maximus Optimus Prime. Optimus Prime was an afterthought because we had recently seen Transformers. In my house, our pet names hardly matter because we call both cats by a variety of names that are not theirs. Oops.

  4. When I was an apartment-dwelling single person I had three Japanese Fighting Fish in a bowl. One male (Jacques Cousteau) and two females (Lucy and Ethel). No one told me that putting all of them together might be a bad idea. One day I came home to find that Lucy and Ethel were floating lifeless (and eyeless) at the top of the fishbowl and Jacques was noticeably fatter.

    No fish since then. However cats like Benson, Perry Mason, Simon, Elwyn (for E.B. White), Zoltan, Caroline Applebee and Betty Ramsey, Andy and Jorvorskie Lane (after a college football player from my alma mater). Also...dogs Hershey and Norman Darwin.

  5. My first pets were a group of swordtail fish named "Louie" "Irene" and "Mildred" there was also an algae eater named "Henry". We moved on to a bunny named "Harold" a cat named "Thomas" and a beagle named "Marie". We now own a Sheltie named "Jessie" but called "Jessica Lindsey" when she is in big, BIG trouble and a cat (black of course) named "Merlin".That one is a family joke because there have been a succession of black cats going back in my husband's family named "Merlin". Although, now, I don't think I could ever own another.

  6. There was Shiloh, the hound.

    Jenny, my beagle mix, and Shelley, my gorgeous doll of a cocker spaniel.

    Shasta was cool-eyed Siamese cat.

    Tessie, a darling long-haired calico.

    Duncan, my silky terrier.

    Amy, my tortoiseshell tabby, who died last year.

    And finally Pete, Mr. Personality Plus, my famous black cat.

  7. V--I had a black bunny named Shiloh and a spotted mouse named Shasta. I swear that we are somehow sharing a brain and a destiny.

    Laura--My brother named his algae eater Rudy after a big ugly drunk who used to live next door. The resemblance was uncanny.

    AB--It is my most fervent hope that you called pets by BOTH names when they had two. "Perrymason, come get your dinner. Here, Bettyramsey, come on!" Here, that's a requirement. Why bother GIVING both if you're not going to use them?

    jenomena--I know what you mean by nicknames. TravisCat became "Fatly" around here, and Emily often answers to "Girly." Not sure how those came about, either. We are really a bit pathological with the nicknames here at the Dept. Everyone and everyTHING has one. Or more.

    ck--I had a nephew cat named Smokey who met his demise by chewing on an electrical cord. I also knew a Shadow cat. Vlad is a cool name, esp. if the cat's teeth warrant it.

    nancy--I've never seen a cat with a comb-over...LOL. Sounds like you need a new companion, and soon. Perhaps a bunny. If it is small and brown, you already know what to name it.

  8. Scrappy's name is Scrappy because he is a scrapper.

    I never would have named Scooter Scooter. But he already had a name when we got him.

    I'm not sure I understand how Robert plays on a little brown bunny but I'm willing to bet you've got some clever explanation.

  9. Nancy8:13 AM

    " Sounds like you need a new companion,and soon. Perhaps a bunny.If it is small and Brown,you already know what to name it."

    Nance, meet my new bunny,
    Gary Coleman..........

  10. My friends named their cat Sir Dracula Mappington, or Dracula for short. I like it. Better than spot.

  11. ih--imagine the neighbors' reaction when they call for it!

    nancy--LOL. Robert! I meant ROBERT!!

    nina--stop lying to me. you stole the name Scrappy Doo directly from that lame cartoon. PLAGIARIST!!

    no cleverness involved w/the name Robert. all small, brown male bunnies look like Roberts. they just do. go to a pet store and look at the bunnies. if there is a brown one, look at it and see for yourself. seriously. it's just a thing.

    everyone--i once had a very nice shubunkin fish who was yellow-gold with grey flecks. he was quiet and thoughtful and a bit of a loner. his name was Philip. he met an untimely death due to a parasite. i still get a little choked up when i think about him. i just always liked that fish--he had a very calm and deliberate personality. for a fish.

  12. That looks like a pretty dangerous bunny to me...perhaps it has great big teeth? ;)

    I'm kindof against the naming of wild animals. They are not pets, and shouldn't be mistaken for pets. They are wild, and dangerous. Just my two cents. What do I know...I almost named my dog "Little Toot", after my favorite book at the time. What do you want from me...I was 6.

  13. I have to say that I think Fluffy is a fab name for a python.

    But, I suck at pet names, and my son seems to have inherited the gene. His name for his fish?


    How. Original.

  14. I'm all for human names for pets as well. If Stella had more of a tolerant nature, I always thought it would have been fun to get a little white cat and name her Blanche. When cats finally arrived in our home, they just seemed to name themselves. Sorry to hear about Travis.

  15. I swear that the Doo part came later...for quite some time he was just Scrappy!

    **I would never attempt to plagiarize on your page :)

  16. We had a beagle named Toby.His AKA name was Prince Tobias of Raven. He died. Then we had another beagle named Toby. After all the work of naming the first one, and since his replacement was obtained 2 days after his demise, calling the new pup Toby was the easier path.

    The neighbors had a 90 pound basset hound named Agnes. She was a short tank.

  17. Great post! Too many thoughts! In 7th grade I got two Amazon water turtles and named them Tom (Jones) and Engel(bert Humperdinck). I fervently wanted a water turtle, and was allowed to have them because my mom said if I could talk my dad into taking her to Vegas to see the human Englebert H., I could have a turtle. When she came back she said the concert was so thrilling I could have TWO turtles. They lived long, happy lives. Then somehow an elderly desert tortoise dug its way into our backyard. She immediately became Samantha. No witchcraft or wiggly nose; she just looked like her name was Samantha. My now departed cats? Tabby who ate like a pig=Falstaff, nicknames Lardy and Buddy. His brother, pure black and svelte, who "sang" instead of meowing, was Orpheus.

  18. Sorry, I forgot something--does anyone else name plants? I name all my cacti. Two Christmas--Melchior and Balthazar. If I get a third, you know what it will be. I raised a series of Seymours and have a huge twisted aloe called Angelique. I just rescued a large saguaro from my kid's science teacher's adopt-a-cactus program. He's Algernon. (They were going to dissect him!)

    Oh, I meant to ask you, Nance, if Barnabas was named after the character on the old Gothic soap opera, "Dark Shadows."

  19. sputnik--absolutely, barnabas was named for the vampire on Dark Shadows! good catch. and i anxiously await the arrival of your third cactus, Gaspar. I don't name plants anymore after the demise of Murgatroid, my huge dracaena. love the name Orpheus, btw.

    nancy in A2--i had a sweet guinea pig named Toby. and I once knew a very smelly, very lethargic Bassett named Cyrus. It literally exuded Cyrus-ness.

    nina--i was only kiddin'!!

    j.--i still love the name Stella for your dog. and thanks for the sympathy re: Travis. it was a very difficult decision and process. in spite of all my bravado and bluster, i was more attached to him than i thought and it was harder than i thought. i actually miss him, even him throwing his whole body against the door when i bathe.

    gina--sigh. you know what they say: "some of us got it and some of us ain't." apparently, grammar wasn't that individual's strong point. LOL.

    j./jellyjules--you score points for having literary influence, at least.

  20. Everyone who knows me knows that I don't do wildlife, and when these people with larger-than-them pets get eaten by them, all I'm gonna say is, "I told you so!"

  21. tera--plus, what the hell kind of pet is a snake anyway? what can it do? tricks? no. respond to its name? no. be warm and furry to pet? no. you may as well have a baloney sandwich in a box. seriously.

  22. Nance~LMFAO!!!!! I love it! Great point(s)!


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