This headline in the Toronto Star last week caught our fancy. Toronto Animal Services reports that of the 90,154 pets registered with the City as required by the by-law, the most popular names for both cats and dogs are “Charlie” (number one) and “Max” (number two). How can that be? Our grandchildren have a young long-haired tabby named Charlie and we have an older short-haired black common cat named Max. How is it that we are so in sync with popular trends? I’m not known to be particularly au courant with popular culture.
Our Max was named Max because we unexpectedly acquired two kittens at once, thought of “Maximillian” for some unknown reason, and realized it suggested two names: Max and Millie. Our grandchildren acquired two new kittens a year ago. Lucifer is their black cat; Charlie the fluff ball with the spectacular flowing tail. Lucifer, named for the evil cat in Cinderella, has now been shortened to Lou. Our grandson likes the Peanuts movies and he named Charlie after Charlie Brown. We are told that their parents had little input into naming the children’s pets.
I well remember the two French cats our family acquired. The first was a black and white “European common cat” I bought for twenty francs from a pet store on the right bank of the Seine in Paris. It was a month after we were married, and my husband and I were living in an apartment on the sixth floor of a walk up in the Second Arrondissement. We discussed the idea of getting a pet. My husband was a “dog person” but knew we couldn’t manage a dog. So he suggested we get a bird. I replied that birds weren’t cuddly and we should get a cat instead. He had no experience with cats and let the matter drop, assuming that I would not pursue it. But, yes…. When he went to the Archives the next day, I hustled down to the pet store to find a kitten, chose the cutest one on offer at the cheapest price, and brought her home in a box. After one minor mishap, my husband fell in love with her and very quickly became a “cat person.” But since I chose the kitten, he got to choose the name. His choice? “Ralph”… for a female cat? Ten months later, we imported Ralph back to North America and she lived with us for nineteen years.
We acquired our second French cat the year Ralph died. On a sabbatical in France, we were living with our two children in a ramshackle old home on a large lot in suburban Bures-sur-Yvette, west of Paris and south of Versailles. The house had a modern kitchen with a large casement window that opened over the lawn. A mangy female cat, belonging to our Portuguese neighbours, was a regular visitor at the window, always on the lookout for the leftovers we were more than happy to feed her. Eventually, she became pregnant, had a litter of kittens and, sure enough, the elder daughter of our neighbour came by one day to offer us the last of the litter to bring back to Canada as a souvenir. The kitten was another European common cat, a tabby this time and not particularly beautiful. But a French cat is a French cat, so why not? We agreed to take the kitten on the condition that the family look after her while we travelled in Europe during the last month of our trip abroad. They did.
Our younger son suggested that the cat should be called “François Mitterrand,” after the then President of France. Since the kitten was a female, we adapted the name to “Françoise Mitterrand.” In June, I took her down to the vet to get the shots required for importing her into Canada. The veterinarian asked me her name, and I replied “Françoise Mitterrand.” He laid down his pen, looked at me with an air of exasperation, and told me very slowly and very definitively that “Il est défendu de nommer un animal après le président de la République!” (It is forbidden to name an animal after the president of the Republic!)… “Son nom sera Mittie.” He picked up his pen again, and inscribed “Mittie” in her Carnet de Vaccination. And so Mittie she became. She too came to Canada and lived to a grand old age. At least this time, the government of France had certified her name as proper, and legal.
Thanks to Sara Irvine for the photo of Charlie.