The Naming of Animals, by Us

We label a creature we wish to stalk, kill, butcher, and eat ‘game,’ then have the gall to assign, to an over-ripe bit of the unfortunate’s tainted flesh, the label ‘gamey.’ 

Sometimes we get the name exactly right. Except for a minor disagreement about vowels, ‘deer’ seems an appropriate moniker for these gentle and—frankly—endearing beasts.

And could a puppy or kitten or duck be more aptly named? 

Pet names, of course, are more about us than the labeled animal. Take Sybil for example. I know for a fact that the kitten would prefer being called Desdemona.

I’ll explain.

In the early 2000’s, when I first began to flee the oppressive heat of the Arizona desert in order to spend summers back in my home state of Colorado, I continued to work for Phoenix College remotely as the campus e-advisor. This meant, no matter where I wandered geographically, I could log-in to the College’s chatline and help students from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

This made for an ideal schedule, leaving the weekends free and also the early morning and afternoon…prime times for indulging in my second-favorite activity, namely: fishing.

(To learn the nature of my absolute, first-favorite activity, you’ll need to deposit $20, in small bills, in the tin can beneath the gray rock, behind my bungalow next to the watering can, and also provide a note from your mother.)

My flexible schedule also meant that I was available to run errands for my Colorado friends. As it happens, I spent most summers house-sitting for an energetic couple who devoted their summers to river-running. Speaking of labels: Greg’s a geophysicist and Fran’s a veterinarian. While I would have loved to work with Greg, who had an earthquake monitoring station set up in the house, my chief role was helping Fran by transporting so-called ‘fixed’ kittens from their rural home on Brimstone Road to the animal shelter thrift shop in Grand Junction for adoption.

Now and then, I would load as many as ten of the diminutive caged critters into my little Honda SUV and drive fifty-five miles to deliver the so-called fixed kittens. (I’m qualifying the term ‘fixed’ because, let’s face it, any way you look at it, those little cats were, in every sense of the word, ‘broken.’) Fran did her best, of course, to lessen the trauma and pain, but, regardless of her efforts, my passengers complained. And they complained vociferously, at the top of their collective voices, as I drove through the rugged landscape bordering Colorado Highway 50.

Fifty-five miles, cooped up with mewling kittens; it was a bleak prospect.

However, I’m rabid a National Public Radio fan and, to moderate the hour-long auditory assault, I tuned in and cranked up the volume of whatever program happened to be broadcasting. Which is how I discovered opera and it’s effect on my squalling passengers.

Have a carload of yowling mousers? The solution is opera. Turn it up and the felines are instantly silenced; listening, apparently, to the competing sounds which, to the naive critters, must have sounded precisely like the mother of all cats.

Hence, I am convinced that, if she had a choice, Sybil (the tabby pictured below), would preferred to be called Desdemona.

Sybil, aka Desdemona

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