[Update!: Find more literary pet names in “Literary Pet Names: Canine Edition”]
When my partner, Ashley, and I got our first cat, about 18 months ago, the hardest part was choosing a name. We brainstormed, we listed, we bickered, we wavered, we despaired. We wanted something unusual, something evocative—and most of all, we wanted a literary pet name. We’re nerds that way, I guess. (A good friend insisted that we call the kitten Parsnip, but as much as we love food, literature won the day.)
We finally, excruciatingly, and just barely settled on a name: Phineas. As in P(hineas) T. Barnum, circus promoter and author of a rip-roaring memoir, The Autobiography of P.T. Barnum, which Ashley had recently read. But then we took our new kitten to the vet, where the receptionist gushed over the name. “Oooh, Phineas,” she exclaimed. “Like Phineas & Ferb!”
Our heads hit the desk, our faces found our palms. Not exactly what we were going for. So after a quick conference, we decided to go instead with Ichabod, which had run a very, very close second in the name-a-thon. And it turns out the name fits this sweet, gawky, goofy cat like a glove. Success! (In the interests of friendship, Ichabod’s middle name is, yes, Parsnip.)
To help you pick a cat name that will wow your friends—or make them roll their eyes—I have, with help from Ashley and some friends, come up with a list of amazing, weird, and oh-so-literary names for your feline fuzzball:
Want a name that will stand the test of time? Want to show everyone how well-read you are? Then you’ll want a canonical cat name. If you’re in a romantic mood, perhaps you’d like Rochester, Hindley, Fanny, Mr. Darcy, Bertram, Fitzwilliam, Brocklehurst, or The Madwoman in the Attic (nickname: Maddy). And if you’re a diehard Dickens fan, there’s Pickwick, Havisham, Chuzzlewit, Madame Defarge, Artful Dodger, or Serjeant Buzfuz. Or, if you’re feeling more American, you might go with Melville. Perhaps Bartleby, Billy Budd, Ishmael, Queequeg, or The Lighting-Rod Man will float your Pequod. Elsewhere in nineteenth-century America, you can also find Hester, Berenice, Alcott, and Ralph. Prefer twentieth-century lit? Then how about Orlando, Finnegan, Nella, Somerset, Gatsby, Zelda, Zora, Zooey, Atticus, Capote, or Lady Chatterly’s Lover (nickname: Chatty, perfect for a talkative Siamese)?
Cats are, we might say, the ultimate geeks. They’re clever, creative, maniacally focused, territorial, eager for treats, chronically sleepy, with a fondness for tummy rubs. So sci-fi/fantasy is a natural place to go questing for names. You could go Tolkein (Bilbo, Balrog, Gimli, Farmer Maggot), Asimov (Arkady, Kelden, Preem, The Mule), Miéville (Bellis, Deeba, Perdido, Teafortwo), or Heinlein (Tolliver, Castor, Pixel, Doctor-Livingston-I-Presume). Or you could pick a name that captures the dangerous creature that lurks inside your fuzzy little friend, like Cthulu, Drogon, Rhaegon, and Viserion. (These latter, fire-breathing names are particularly apt in the event of kitty halitosis.) Or, if your cat seems to be plotting your downfall—and perhaps that of humanity as a whole—then why not go HAL? You could also, of course, go with a shout-out to Octavia, Asimov, Delaney, Tiptree, Philip K., or Atwood.
THE CHILDISH (OR YOUNG ADULTISH)
If you’re a fiend for YA or children’s lit, or just want a bit of nostalgia in your pet naming, then there are a passel of names to choose from. You could go in a more obvious direction, with Cheshire, Crookshanks, or, if you’ll forgive me, CATniss. A little more off the beaten Tesseract (nickname: Tess) are Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which. Or there’s Beatrix (the name we chose for our second cat), Jo, Almanzo, Falkor, Piglet, Tamora, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And if you don’t mind giving your cat a god complex, there’s always Aslan.
Languid and precise, controlled but mysterious, cats are certainly poetic. So why not turn to the world of verse to find the perfect cat name? If you prefer the elegance of classic poetry, then why not Spencer, Orgoglio, Pembroke, Tennyson, Ozymandias (nickname: Ozzy), or The Ancient Mariner? But if your cat is a little rougher around the edges, its verse a bit freer, then why not Whitman, Dickinson, Prufrock, Langston, Ezra, e.e., Ginsburg, Moloch, Jorie, or The Red Wheelbarrow (nickname: Barry)?
Does your cat have a bookish name? Share it here to expand our list of literary cat names!