How do you pick a name (for a cat or a character)?


DSC02105This is Zeke. Our grandchildren started out calling her ‘Trooper Zeke McGuire’ until it eventually ended up as just plain Zeke — not that either name was particularly appropriate for a female kitten. Of course at the time of naming, everyone thought she was a he, and by the time it was discovered she wasn’t, nobody was about to change the name.

Zeke has attitude. Oh, I know… you’ll tell me all cats do. I’m not a cat person so you could fool me. My life has been filled with dogs for more than sixty years but there’s never been a cat. Zeke and I have the loosest of relationships. She belongs to my son’s family, and has a chocolate Lab in her household to boss around when she feels the need to play her dominant card.

The Lab barks when she wants into the house. If the cat also happens to want in, when the door opens she darts in ahead of the dog. When Zeke wants in and the dog isn’t around to offer assistance, Zeke backs up to the French doors and thuds a rapid tattoo against them with her back paws! For some reason that reminds me of a jackrabbit. Why couldn’t they have named her Jackie? Or then again, wasn’t it the song about Frosty the Snowman that tootled, “Thumpity-thump-thump, thumpity-thump-thump, look at Frosty go?” Why couldn’t they have named her Frosty?


Zeke’s Chocolate Lab is called ‘Java’. Our own Black Lab is ‘Tynan’, which is Gaelic for ‘the dark one’. No further explanation needed, right? But ‘Zeke’ for a grey, long-haired female house cat???

Finding suitable names for cats or dogs, babies or characters in a novel is a challenge. How can anyone know what will suit them when they first arrive… before they’ve displayed or even developed a personality?

When it comes to characters, I usually have an image in mind. Then it’s a matter of checking the image against a list of potential names — sometimes it’s in my mind, other times it’s in a telephone book, a ‘name your baby’ book, or possibly rolling credits on the movie or television screen. I discard them one by one, depending on who I might have known with a particular name, and whether it suggests either positive or negative connotation or remembered personality traits. It can be a slow process.

I’ve been known to change a character’s name several times in the course of writing a story. That can cause problems of its own. While the ‘search and replace’ function in my word processing software is very handy, it’s not fool proof, as author Denise Jaden reminded me on Facebook yesterday when she said she’d “changed a character’s name using the Find and Replace option in Word, but forgot to add spaces before and after the names. Now I’m coming across words like resebastianable (instead of remarkable). Makes me laugh every time.” Later she added, ” Upon further thought, I think I may keep reSEBASTIANable as my own addition to the English language. I’ll use it whenever anything is extra remarkable.”

How difficult is it for you to find the right name (for a cat, kidlet or character)? Have you ever regretted your choice?



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Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

7 thoughts on “How do you pick a name (for a cat or a character)?

  1. Zeke is so beautiful. Reminds me of our late Fluffy. As for naming, we have a female cat called Garage. I nicknamed her Garagee so it sounds more feminine. I didn’t name her. We have another female called Fritz. I call her Fritzy-Girl. I don’t think men should name cats. LOL

    When I name a character, I try to find a name that fits their personality. I also try to stay away from family names. Otherwise I hear things like, “Hey–I’m in Grandma’s book!”


  2. Ps. Our feline family: Fluffy McDuffy, Buster Parfait, Shasta Da’Fasta, Freaky Fritzy, Pretty Boy, Tigger, Mrs. Boots, Mr. Boots.

  3. Sometimes it takes FOREVER to find the right name (luckily, they come easily sometimes, too), but when it comes to main characters, I never start writing ’til I find that perfect name. I give a lot of thought to the meaning of the name, and also consider ethnic origin, connotations and personal associations/memories. With minor characters, it’s more of a whatever-comes-to-me-at-the-time approach, lol, and it’s not unusual to find things like “Mrs. English teacher’s name” stuck in a first draft so I don’t get slowed down in the writing.

  4. I find it very difficult to name characters. Usually they have placeholder names for several drafts. In my 1st novel, the female lead had 3 different names before “Julia” stuck. In my 2nd novel, the main character had at least 3 names before I settled on “Ryan.” In my upcoming book, I have a nasty villain and I hated to give her a common name that would belong to lots of real people, so I used the name “Raleigh.” Sometimes I wish I were writing in invented worlds, where I could make up all the names!

  5. I have a pooch in my book. She’s a golden retriever named, “Lucy.” She’s always bouncing around and playful, and just seemed like a “Lucy.”

    My own cats were Abraham and Sarah after the Biblical pair. Since they were male and female, my mind automatically went to different pairings. Some other suggestions were David and Bathsheba, Adam and Eve, and Romeo and Juliette. Most of these had rather tragic situations. Abraham and Sarah were a happier couple.

  6. Much like Susan Reinhardt, I can name my dogs without too much difficulty. They each get a long fancy name for registration purposes first, and from that I pare down to a nickname. I’m somewhere between Shari and Jenn when it comes to naming characters because I have trouble getting into their story until they have suitable names, which means I sometimes change the names several times before they feel right. Like Joylene, I wouldn’t dare use the name of a family member!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the discussion! 🙂

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