How the Cats Got Their Names

There will be talk of cats from time to time. Perhaps it would be best to lay a small foundation.

First there was Seymour. Seymour was a grey tabby with classic tiger-stripe markings. Because we were both librarians we decided to name our animals after famous librarians, and perhaps because this animal was a cat we named him after an important figure in library cataloging.

Fame for librarians is typically limited to a small circle of other librarians, often limited even more to those actively interested in a specific field within librarianship. The name of a “famous” librarian is rarely as commonly known as the name of a character actor in a movie, or even that of the current mayor of Albuquerque. Even many librarians will not recognize the name of a “famous” librarian. But we knew those who were famous to us, and promptly named this kitten after Seymour Lubetzky, whose work provided an important intellectual structure for library cataloging and bibliographic control.

Seymour came to us from the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. According to the papers we signed in October 1979 we didn’t buy him, we didn’t even really adopt him. It was more like we borrowed him while making a donation to the Society. Ownership remained with the Anti-Cruelty Society; we swore that we would notify them any time we moved and that we would return him to them on their request. His collar was decorated with a little round tag that said “I am lost” and gave the Anti-Cruelty Society’s telephone number. Perhaps we absconded with him; when we moved to Columbia, Tennessee, in fall of 1981 we neglected to tell the Society.

Next came Wilfrid. One afternoon in fall 1982, as we were walking around in our neighborhood in Columbia, we heard the call of a kitten. We walked around looking for the source and eventually found a tiny grey tabby hiding among some parked cars. He followed us back to our house and seemed intent on staying with us. Seymour seemed to favor this plan, so the kitten joined the household. And following the pattern set with Seymour, we named the kitten after F. Wilfrid Lancaster, another famous librarian, some of whose work concerned information retrieval, a field closely related to cataloging.

Wilfrid, unfortunately, was with us only a few months before he died suddenly of feline leukemia. Seymour was devastated, and so was I. We both moped about until Lisa couldn’t stand it anymore. And so, just before Easter 1983 we went to a little pet shop that assisted adoptions of kittens. As we stared into the “free kittens” cage, not seeing the right one, someone appeared with a basket of new kittens. Lisa glanced at the kittens in the basket and nabbed another grey tabby. This one became Fremont, named after Fremont Rider.

In July 1985 Seymour and Fremont moved with us to Austin. Again we neglected to tell the Anti-Cruelty Society.

In fall 1989 I went looking for Seymour because he hadn’t come home the night before and found him dead under a tree in our side yard. He was not an old cat, but he had had health problems. I think his heart failed while he climbed the tree.

In Spring 1990 on one of our weekly visits to the Whole Foods Grocery Store at Crossroads Market, we discovered that the Humane Society of Williamson County had set up a dog and cat adoption project in front of the store. With two children, aged 2 and 5, in tow, there was no way for us to avoid the cage of cute kittens. And one in particular struck the kids’ fancy, a little grey tabby female. Her name was already Cassie when we met her, and Cassie she remained.

And this brings us to our current cat population.

In April 2001 our 18-year-old cat Fremont succumbed to cancer. The kids insisted that we now needed a kitten, had needed a kitten for a long time, since Cassie had long ago ceased to be a kitten, long enough ago that neither of them really remembered her as a kitten. But we were about to spend a month in Norway. We explained to the kids that it would be extremely unkind to get a kitten, then leave it alone for a month. We promised that we would get a kitten after we returned. And, leaving Cassie to the kind care of the neighbors whom she had adopted after an unpleasant incident at the veterinarian’s office several years before, we departed.

Somewhere, sometime during the trip, possibly before the plane landed in Oslo, the kitten turned into two kittens — “so they can play together” — and by Trondheim the kids had made their choices. Arend wanted a black male kitten who would be named Spike; Hilde wanted a brown female kitten who would be named Dirty Cat; and we would wait until we returned to Austin rather than trying to import any of the cute Norwegian kittens who appeared on so many streets. And so it was. On our return to Austin we went to the Austin Humane Society where we found an impossibly cute black kitten with gigantic, round, yellow eyes and a skinny but beautiful tortoise shell kitten. Spike, probably about a month younger than Dirty Cat, was larger and more energetic than she was. Dirty Cat, a stray, had been very sick when she was first found, but the staff assured us that she was now healthy even though she was still a little under weight.

The new kittens settled in, and somehow attracted Cassie back into our house.

A year later we spent a month driving about in West Virginia. On our return, amid the normal bustle and confusion of arrival, Lisa opened the front door and Dirty Cat suddenly streaked from under my chair toward the opening with a rat in her mouth. Lisa was appalled, then realized that the “rat” was in reality a tiny black kitten, and quickly closed the door to prevent an escape. Both Spike and Dirty Cat were neutered before we got them, so I had been a bit puzzled but not concerned when I noticed, as we were leaving for West Virginia, that Dirty Cat appeared to be gaining weight. Apparently one egg had survived the operation; neighbors reported that the kitten was born on our front porch, and a great effort was required to get both Dirty Cat and the kitten into the house.

There was no consensus on a name for the new kitten. Grubby was suggested, because “he was a little Dirty”, but some members of the family objected to that name. Most of the time he’s still just “The Kitten”. He doesn’t seem to mind.

After The Kitten was weaned Dirty Cat had another operation, and there have been no new surprises.

Sadly Cassie’s health was not good, and she died in 2003. And so, as of 2009, we remain with the three “kittens”: Dirty Cat, now often just “DC”; Spike; and The Kitten.

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