Tuesday, August 23, 2005

If We Can Name A Cat, Then...

The sperm donor and I have adopted four cats during the course of our relationship. Fortunately, we are both cat people. I had cats when I was little, and the sperm donor had the demon feline seed living in his garage (ask to see the scars!). I don't even remember how we set out on this adventure of finding the most unique names for these felines, but with each one we adopted the challenge seemed larger.

It all started many years ago with Hou Zi. The sperm donor and I were very excited because our landlord had finally relented and allowed us to have a cat in the apartment, as long as she didn't tear up the place and we kept it clean. Hou Zi is the Monkey King in Chinese mythology, but I don't remember how we discovered that (this cat is so old that we didn't have internet access yet). We wanted to name her after a monkey because the day we picked her out at the shelter, she proceeded to climb up the sperm donor's body and perch on his shoulder. She continues to travel across the room from piece of furniture to piece of furniture as though swinging on vines, instead of taking a leisurely stroll along the floor. Her name has not provided us with many nicknames, though. She is often referred to as "The Queen", of course because she is the oldest. Sometimes I call her brain damaged because she chewed through an electric cord many years ago; she didn't have any whiskers for a while and now she has this funny twitch.

Much to Hou Zi's dislike, we decided to adopt another cat a few years later. The sperm donor and I had just moved into our first home. My grandmother had died about that time and I thought a new cat would assuage my grief. I was reading the newspaper before we made our way to the animal shelter, and read an article about a province in Egypt called El Minya. I don't remember what the article was specifically about, but I thought, "Minya. What a pretty name for a cat!" And so our little black and white wonder was named Minya. I don't think anyone has ever called her Minya though, as she quickly adopted the nickname Minnie. Sometimes she is Skinny Minnie. Sometimes she is Round Minnie. Right now she is Itchy Minnie because of some strange allergy our vet has yet to identify.

A couple of years later, we discovered Tookie at a local bar. He would beg for french fries from customers, so we decided to give him a nice home. Tookie was a nickname for a very long Urdu name given to him by a friend from Pakistan. The long version of his name was supposed to mean "little black chin" because little Tookie had the most darling chin. Our Pakistani friend was later absconded by his mother for not knowing his Urdu anatomy very well; apparently, he had named Tookie after his ankle. Tookie had many other nicknames as well. His Terminator name was "The Tookinator." His Gladiator name was "Tookus Maximus." His WWF name was "The Took." Sweet Tookie died of kidney failure at a young age. His picture sits on our mantle, next to his little urn and the footprint the staff at our vet's office made for us. I tried to take his picture down off the mantle after Christmas this year, but I just couldn't do it. He is still very much a part of our little cat family.

We got Manu about a year ago. Manu is, of course, named after my favorite NBA player, Manu Ginobili. Unfortunately for all of us, he also thinks he is Manu Ginobili. He runs around the house at top speed, and has recently learned how to turn on a light switch located several feet above the floor. Manu has a little white triangle-shaped patch of fur on his chest, resembling a Superman shield, which, of course, has allowed him the nickname of Super Manu. Sometimes, I call him Shmanu. His other nickname reminds me of a "Get Fuzzy" cartoon in which the little dog is introducing another dog to the rest of his friends; the second dog says, "Oh, you can just call me 'OFF THE F#?>%& COUNTER!' Everybody else does." That's Manu's nickname too.

My point in all this rambling this: if the sperm donor and I can successfully provide our beloved pets with original and memorable names, then how hard can it be to name our baby? It seems the biggest challenge of all. For the cat, the name is something they audibly recognize, a familiar sound which merits an ear twitch. For us though, our name is the center of our identity, a label for the essence of who we are. A name can command so much: attention, affection, authority, power, neglect. A name can trigger a memory. A name can be rejected. A name can be adored. Sometimes a nickname can have more of an effect than a given name. I was called Nissan for several years, after the car manufacturer (however, my best friend's father, in his attempt to be unique, insisted on calling me Toyota). I have always wondered about people who legally change their name at some point in life, apart from marriage. What's that about? Is it a reflection of the disdain towards the people who gave the name? Does it reflect a lifestyle change? The power is clearly in the name.

I want my child to have a name he or she can be proud of, a name about which my child says, "Gee. Mom and Dad did a good job picking this one." I was an adult before I could say that about my own name.

We're open to suggestions.

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