An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What NOT to Name a Cat and Why That Matters

Dear Readers,
We all have our purrsonal names – the names we call ourselves that our humans would never guess. And we all have names by which our purrsons call us. And since for most of us, our human-given name is associated with food and treats and other good things, we can even get to like it.

So why am I bothering you with the business of human-given names?

Recently a cat wrote to me for advice. And when he named the cats he was living with, I was shocked. One was called Trouble and another, Snotty Nose.

When I inquired as to the origin of said names, I was told that Trouble was always getting into mischief. He liked to open cupboard doors and chase around the house (often knocking things over). To his purrsons, he was a problem.

Big deal!

He is a high-energy, intelligent cat who needs lots of environmental stimulation and daily interactive play sessions. The problem was with the humans in the household, who lacked the skills and commitment to create a most suitable setting for the cat.

And poor Snotty Nose got that name because, as a kitten, she had a virus that made her eyes tear and her nose drip! It’s the human equivalent of calling someone Pimples because they had acne as a teenager.

Of course humans will defend their choices by saying that we cats don’t know what the words mean anyway. They will even go on to say that ‘sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me”. Try telling that to some kid who comes home crying because someone called him bug-face or stinky.

When a human uses a derogatory name for a cat, they often (even unconsciously) use a demeaning voice tone. They may even form a mental picture of that true meaning and convey it, nonverbally, to us! It doesn’t take a mental giant among us to know that we are being mocked or laughed at - the subject of derision.

And have they never heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy: That what you call someone tends to encourage them to live up to that name?

Why should this matter? Well it's not exactly the foundation for a stellar human-animal bond!

Many people assume that they are the only living beings with feelings. It just isn’t so.

Herself came across a book Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (by biologist and writer Jonathan Balcombe). He writes of many species: about knowing fairness (dogs), practicing random acts of kindness (rats), showing gratitude (whales), and sharing (roosters).

We all have rich, complex, inner lives.

We have feelings. We are sensitive. And we deserve respect.

So what happened to Trouble and Snotty Nose? They are now Nijinsky (named after the athletic ballet dancer) and Tulip.

What in a name? Frankly, a lot!

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