The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names,
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?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum—
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular name.
From Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Copyright © 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed © 1967 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I don’t think the task of naming me
fell to my father because they thought
the sex of the child was decided by the sperm—
I don’t think they knew that. They thought that giving
a name was a big deal, so it should be
a man who did it—and my mother was grieving,
her Father in heaven had given her
another daughter. In the room where new parents
pay and check out, they won’t let you take
your baby home if you haven’t named her.
I think there would have been a flourish,
a flash for the nurses in his dark brown eyes,
a delay as he closed his eyes and held his
frat-boy finger above the open
Bible, then brought his digit down into the
creek-bed of eros, the laid-open
lady book, and touched my name.
This morning I wondered if it was on purpose
he opened the book way back in war,
in Kings and Numbers, letting the Psalms
and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes go by,
good-bye to Isaiah and Jeremiah,
and stopped, blind, at the narrow window
of a song—the slot for the crossbow’s arrow
between turret bulges—he touched my name among
the roses and the lilies, I rose up
under my father’s thumb, and his fruit was
sweet to my taste, and the shade of his presence
has been all my life a rich and enduring night.
Copyright © 2019 Sharon Olds. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2019.