What’s In A (Cat’s) Name?

Before I adopted Buddy, I vowed I’d be a different kind of cat dad.

Where other people gave their cats normal, mundane and even human names, I would give my kitten a spectacular moniker, one that would convey both his awesomeness and my cleverness.

If my new kitten were female, I’d name her Arya or Khaleesi. By the time I was ready to adopt, I was set on the former. For people who weren’t Game of Thrones obsessives for the past eight years, Arya Stark (pictured above) was the show’s plucky orphan and one of its most popular characters.

If my new kitten were male, I’d name him Khal Drogo after the fierce Dothraki warlord played by the musclebound Jason Momoa. But perhaps Khal Drogo wasn’t awesome enough. Maybe I needed something even more badass, like Tigron, Destroyer of Worlds, or Saberfang the Earthshaker.

Khal Drogo
Khal Drogo: Except for the huge muscles, he doesn’t have much in common with Buddy.

Then I took the soon-to-be-named Buddy home and realized those names were ridiculous. This tiny ball of fur with a pipsqueak mew couldn’t be Khal Drogo or Tigron. In fact, the first thing I called him was buddy: After I’d placed him in his brand new carrier and carefully buckled the carrier into the front passenger seat of my car, he looked at me through the bars with those big grey (at the time) eyes and cried.

“Don’t worry, buddy, we’re going to be best friends,” I assured him. “You’ll see.”

No doubt he was further traumatized and terrorized by my terrible singing voice as I queued up some tunes for the drive home.

IMG_2955
“Your singing voice is abominable. It should be outlawed under the Geneva Conventions.”

After some two weeks of indecision, I was hanging out with my brother one night when he asked me about my new friend.

“Ah, the cat…” I said.

“You still haven’t given him a name?” My brother was incredulous.

I had given him a name, I just hadn’t realized it yet. During those two weeks I called him buddy, with a lowercase b. A nickname. Not long after that, it became official.

My cat’s name is Buddy.

Saturday Night Travolta
“Everybody on the dance floor, shake your Buddy!”

In retrospect, it makes sense to hold off on granting a name for a while. There are a million Mittens and Socks and Shadows in the world, but how many cats have names that reflect their personality?

It turns out Buddy isn’t a particularly common cat name. It doesn’t appear at all in most popular cat name lists floating around the web, whether they’re sourced from registration, veterinary records or user-generated data.

Buddy finally makes an appearance way down on the list of cuteness.com’s most popular cat names, at #67, way behind enduring male names like Max, Charlie, Milo, Simba, Oliver, Jack, George, Loki, Jasper, Felix and Tiger.

In an article on male cat names, veterinarian Debra Primovic hits the nail on the head:

The majority of cats named Buddy are mixed breed cats owned or named by men. They are often rescued or strays brought into homes and hearts across the world. They are generally loyal and adore their owners.

A Buddy isn’t a prissy, carefully-bred show pet. He’s a Buddy.

The word buddy first came to prominence in 19th-century ‘Merica, and there are two main theories about where the name comes from. The most popular one posits “buddy” is a corruption of the word “brother,” according to Word Detective, while others trace its etymology back to “butty,” a slang-word for a comrade or co-worker among miners, pirates and others who were after “booty.”

Not booty in the modern sense, as in “Get on the dance floor and shake your booty!” but in the treasure sense, as in “Argh! Tell us where the booty be or walk the plank, we shall make ye! Now talk, scallywag!”

I like the first one because it fits: While I do feel parentally protective of my Bud, I see him more as a little brother or a best friend instead of my “child.” No disrespect meant to the people who call their cats “furbabies,” of course. It’s just how I envision our feline-human friendship.

What’s your cat’s naming story? Were you as ridiculous as I was, or did you have your heart set on something less absurd from the beginning?

13 thoughts on “What’s In A (Cat’s) Name?”

  1. This is funny, From all those unique names to Buddy. We have Shelby as a dog, Iden our cat and Henry our other cat (aka the trouble maker of the family). All of our pets are shelter adopted, or from a rescue. So typically they come already named and the kids like to keep them, but Iden – our daughter insisted we name him that. We call him Orange Cat, which drives our daughter crazy, lol!

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  2. Our cats are all called by their nicknames, not their real names. Our black ninja cat is called Sneaky or Sneakers. He’s a master at appearing out of thin air and skilled in the art of covert ops. His real name is Kohler (YUK! 🤮).

    The calico cat’s real name is Kalifa (I can’t even bring myself to say it out loud, I hate it that much!), so she’s called Miss Jingles, -started calling her that when she wore a bell- or Miss Kitty, because she just looks like a Miss Kitty to me.

    My Maine Coon was called Monkey when we got him (absolute worst cat name EVER!) and he needed a new one ASAP. I had no idea what to call him for the first few days after we adopted him, but it finally presented itself. He is the sweetest, most talkative kitty I’d ever come across so I just started calling him Mr. Meow Meow. What’s funny is the fact that he doesn’t even know his name(s) since he’s deaf. He’s mostly called Meow Meow or Sweetpea.

    The first cat I ever had I started calling Fleabag (couldn’t tell you his real name!). Best name ever for a cat, if I do say so myself! Got that moniker because A) he went out one day with a flea collar on and came back without it AND with fleas! And B) this was in the late 70’s and there was a cartoon that had a character named Fleabag (The Oddball Couple-I googled it) and I thought it just sounded right for him. Fit him perfectly!

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    1. I agree, it’s kinda weird when people name their cats after other animals. I’ve seen cats with names like Mouse, Mink and, yes, Monkey. Sometimes it works. Tiger is a good name for a tabby, and Leo’s good, especially for long-haired cats with distinctive manes. But anything outside of the cat family? Nah.

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      1. I totally agree with you. I mean, I kinda understand why they called him that (he climbed on EVERYTHING and he’s a huge cat!), but when I heard it, I threw up in my mouth a little.

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  3. I thought you would never ask! Ok, so this is going to be really ironic considering your cat’s name… My cat, Holly, is named in honor of my favorite singer: BUDDY HOLLY! Your blog caught my eye partly because of your cat’s name, (although I didn’t expect to discover you named him after the singer). When I adopted Holly in February of this year, her foster Mom called her “Casey”. I wasn’t fond of the name, and I wanted to name my new little girl something cute that would also honor Mr. Holly. So I chose “Holly”. The funniest part is that my Dad calls ALL animals ‘”Buddy” regardless of species or gender! So my Dad calls her “Buddy” and I call her “Holly”. We sometimes call her “Holly B.” and the B. stands for “Buddy”. I also read the same thing about Buddy being derived from the word brother. The singer was called Buddy early on perhaps because he was the youngest in his family, or maybe because in those days Buddy was a perfectly normal name. (His birth name was Charles Hardin Holley. But I’m digressing.) Love this post, thanks for the story! 🙂

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    1. Now I’ve got Weezer stuck in my head! Holly is a fine name for a cat. Regal, like all cats should be. As for your dad, I think it’s a guy thing — it just feels natural to call a pet “buddy.” My Buddy is my first-ever proper pet, and adopting him was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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  4. When I adopted my first guy, they had him named Marauder, which was so NOT him…I also waited about two weeks and struggled over a name. At first I was going to go with “Tillman” (or Tilly), after Pat Tillman, who I casually knew in college. but that just seemed sad so finally my mom asked me what the kitty was like and I said he was easy going, laid back, super smart and she said “well, all that, plus the white mark on his forehead which kind of looks like a ‘third eye’…you should call him Buddha!”. As soon as she said it, I knew That was his name! (Though 9 years later, I realize Marauder wasn’t as inappropriate as I thought).

    Buddha’s ‘brother’, Foxy, already had his name. He belonged to a couple who had no business having a cat, and didn’t give him any affection or attention. My roommate and I started catsitting when they would go away, and eventually they realized that we loved him and that he was happier with us so they offered to sell him to us, and I happily paid up, cut them out of our lives. at that point, Foxy knew his name so I kept it.

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    1. Sad that Pat Tillman’s sacrifice seems like ancient history now. We’re always so caught up in partisan bickering that we forget about the people who exemplified what it means to be a patriot. Could you imagine anyone from today’s crop of NFL players giving up millions to enlist and go to war?

      Buddha and Foxy are fine names for the little guys. Most cats could be Marauders though 🙂

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  5. I have 3 Riversong is the mama cat named after a character in Dr Who. Twotone because when she was a kitten she was two shades of grey, now she isn’t and then there is Kangaroo my troublemaker she was named because of something I heard that when the first settlers and convicts arrived in Australia they asked of an aboriginal what’s that animal the reply sounded like Kangaroo. She also has a bit of a hop when she runs. But Mabelle who passed in October she was 18 and was my baby girl she was named because of the only song that the Beatles ever sang in another language and that was Michelle Mabelle love that song and my Mabelle she got me through some tough times because of her I’m still alive.

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