At The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Cats and Dogs, we have 11 cats and 2 dogs. In addition, there are two “outpatient” dogs. All of the cats are strays, abandoned by their former masters and mistresses. One of the dogs was adopted because his elderly mistress developed dementia. The two latest cats to arrive, Angel Cake and Baby Love, were almost certainly dumped from cars by the lumberjack’s woodpile at the edge of the hamlet. In France, it is almost a national tradition to dump one’s pets before going on holiday, for lack of other solutions – and not wishing to pay for a kennel or cattery. Thus it is that, in common with one of our neighbours, we have become a default refuge for homeless and needy felines. To take one example, Baby Love was found trembling and emaciated, eating insects that had been crushed by cars on the road. Now she has food, a bed, a nice home, and she is not complaining.
A word about the naming of cats and dogs. It has always been my practice to provide different names for animals, as the spirit moves me, and for different reasons. Thus:
Noisette: aka Noisy-le-Sec, Noisy-le-Grand, Noisy-Noisette, Big Chief Little Noise (the latter drawing on “Noise-ette”, little noise, and the obvious addition of Big Chief, as in Big Chief Sitting Bull, etc.)
Alec, the dog: aka Professor Lillolman. This is a reference to his ageing, because at 16 he is not as limber as even a year ago, but he can still go for a one-hour walk, has perfect eyesight and hearing. The name, misheard as “Professor Little Old Man”, features in Mel Brooks’ film High Anxiety.
Dahjeeling: aka Poupounette, Poops, Poopsy-Daisy
Girofle: aka Gigi, Girophare (this cat has rights that the others do not, and can go and do whatever it likes, by special dispensation, i.e. because she’s my favourite)
Angel Cake, so-called because his colouring is precisely that of British Angel Cake
Bergamote: aka Brocante
Baby Love has the particularly of needing to be called not by the name alone, but by singing the entire 1964 Diana Ross and the Supremes in a loud falsetto. She has learnt to respond to this.
Our latest friend, the dog Marlowe (alluding to Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe, but also Philip Marlowe in the novels of Raymond Chandler and the narrator of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) was called Merlin by his previous owner: the change of name marked a change of ownership, while remaining close enough to the ear for him to make the transition without distress. Prior to this, we had been considering calling him James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree, but it did seem a bit of a mouthful.
Other residents are Chataigne “le chat le plus gentil dans le monde”, Félicie (“Aussi!” – an allusion to the Fernandel song), Myrtille (who replies “Oui!” when asked “C’est toi, Myrtille?”), Pounia the hermit, Cassis the “Black Panther”, and so on.
Who am I forgetting?
The two outpatients are Jeff and Jeffco, brothers and border collies who live imprisoned in an abandoned pig farm, supposedly performing the function of guard dogs, though there is nothing to guard. We acquired visiting rights, bring them toys and take them for walks. One of the dogs, Jeffco, is stone deaf and only knows what to do and where to go by carefully observing his hearing brother whom he has been known to mistake for a female.
It has been suggested to me that it confuses cats and dogs to have more than one name. However, I maintain that it makes them more intelligent because on hearing a name being called they have to think (“Hold on, is that her over there, or me – wait… ah yes, it’s my third name!”) The mental exercise is akin to doing crosswords or playing Scrabble.
I searched for a long time for a name for the fictitious cat in the book I am presently writing and eventually settled on “Chairman Miaow.”
Any other suggestions of witty cat or dog names?