Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


The Naming of Cats

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
          Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular name.

Credit


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.

About this Poem


This poem, from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, inspired lyrics and characters in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats.

Author


T. S. Eliot

Born in Missouri on September 26, 1888, T. S. Eliot is the author of The Waste Land, which is now considered by many to be the most influential poetic work of the twentieth century.

Date Published: 2019-07-19

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/naming-cats