Nosewise and Pangur Bán
June 29, 2013 4:38 PM   Subscribe

Fido and Spot weren't always generic dog names. Dogs and cats (and monkeys, birds, etc) have been kept as pets for a long time, and medieval pet names can sound very strange or oddly familiar to modern ears.

And just for a Sunday morning bonus, have this amusing quote about the perils of sharing sleeping arrangements with both a dog and a cat, from Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog (which is set in the Victorian era, not the middle ages).
Cyril had staked out his claim and refused to move. "Move over!" I said, freeing one hand from holding the cat to push. "Dogs are supposed to sleep at the foot of the bed."
Cyril had never heard of this rule. He jammed his body up against my back and began to snore. I tugged at the rugs, trying to get enough to cover me, and turned on my side, the cat cradled in my arms. Princess Arjumand paid no attention to the regulations of animals on the bed either. She promptly wriggled free and walked round the bed, treading on Cyril, who responded with a faint "oof," and kneading her claws in my leg. Cyril shoved and shoved again until he had the entire bed and all the covers, and Princess Arjumand draped herself across my neck with her full weight on my Adam's apple. Cyril shoved some more. An hour into this little drama it began to rain in earnest, and everyone moved in under the covers and began jockeying for position again.
posted by Athanassiel (36 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Athanassiel: "Fido and Spot weren't always generic dog names."

Damn straight. I grew up with a cat named Spot, and she was a cat among cats.
posted by brundlefly at 4:40 PM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Troy, Nosewise, Amiable, Nameles, Clenche, Bragge, Ringwood and Holdfast.

They are: The Worst Boy Band In The World
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:56 PM on June 29, 2013 [19 favorites]

There's some great name choices there to be had. Gilbert is a fantastic name for a cat.
posted by arcticseal at 5:06 PM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

How is it possible that Nosewise ever fell out of fashion?
posted by selfmedicating at 5:36 PM on June 29, 2013 [16 favorites]

I've always loved the monk who lived with Pangur Bán. Unsure about the word order in translation, so it's either "fuller white", as in fur so white and thick it looks like it's been meticulously cleaned and softened by the fulling process, or else "white fuller", which I like to think meant that, along with his mouse-hunting, the white kitty had a serious kneading habit.
posted by Gingersnap at 5:39 PM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

...there are many accounts that showed affection and love between these pets and their owners.

Who could ever doubt that? Let's face it, dogs and cats are full of worms.
The worm their way into your house, your life, your bed and your heart. Lots of worms there.

Speichli is a great name for a dog--medium sized, greyhound type, good to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon with..
posted by BlueHorse at 6:47 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pangur Bán shows up in The Secret of Kells, which you should watch right now.
posted by JohnFromGR at 7:28 PM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

“All right,” I said, “but why Brunellus?”

“May the Holy Ghost sharpen your mind, son!” my master exclaimed. “What other name could he possibly have? Why, even the great Buridan, who is about to become rector in Paris, when he wants to use a horse in one of his logical examples, always calls it Brunellus.”

posted by of strange foe at 7:30 PM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


My mother had a cat she called "Little No-Name." I guess she was just being traditional.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:54 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

No lie, I cry every time I read Robin Flower's translation of "Turning Darkness into Light." I can't even read the name "Pangur Ban" without getting a little teary.

I just... empathize so strongly with that monk. He knew what grad school was like.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:55 PM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Thank you for this post! I love historical accounts of cats and dogs so much. People from past eras seem almost alien sometimes in what they thought and how they acted; it can feel like I'll never understand them as humans. But when I see a faded photo of a cat from 100 years ago or read about Pangur Ban, I know that those long-dead cats were exactly like every cat I've met in their own ways, and that they cared about exactly the same things my cat cares about—chin rubs and tasty noms and mischief. And I know those long-dead people were amused and annoyed by their cats and dogs for the same reasons as I am by mine. Then they're not so distant and foreign anymore. The past is another country, but pets transcend borders.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:18 PM on June 29, 2013 [24 favorites]

I love the Irish names: Meone (little meow); Cruibne (little paws); Breone (little flame, perhaps an orange cat), and Glas nenta (nettle grey).

But with Irish, something like "Meone" is probably pronounced "Sichbig".
posted by lollusc at 9:42 PM on June 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

I just watched the Secret of Kells out of sheer coincidence today after reading this article but not the comments here. What a cool cat!
posted by Joe Chip at 9:43 PM on June 29, 2013

Some animal names have come down through history, they were so reknowned or famous.

Alexander the Great's Bucephalus

Rana Prataps' Chetak
posted by infini at 9:51 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

'Prince' must have been the name of every other Alsation (German Shepherd) I met as a kid, so interesting that goes right back to late medieval Switzerland at least.
The faithful Gelert mentioned is remembered in a place-name still today.
posted by Abiezer at 10:01 PM on June 29, 2013

Yeah! Alsatian's are always named Prince in Bollywood movies!
posted by infini at 10:13 PM on June 29, 2013

King Arthur's Cafall (or anglicised Cavall) is another famous dog.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:22 PM on June 29, 2013

Beddgelert is a lovely place to visit and eat an ice cream whilst walking along the river side. The memorial is well worth a visit.
posted by arcticseal at 10:33 PM on June 29, 2013

I just finished a story this year about an anchoress with a cat named "Fauntelet," which is, essentially, "Baby."
posted by duvatney at 10:35 PM on June 29, 2013

I did a FPP on Pangur Bán a while ago. The poem has such a feeling of timelessness: that monk could be there today, working on his text while his cat hunts mice in the corner.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:35 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Pangur Ban features in the beautifully haunting animated movie The Secret of Kells.
posted by reiichiroh at 10:41 PM on June 29, 2013

Whoops. JohnFromGR beat me to it.
posted by reiichiroh at 10:42 PM on June 29, 2013

Gilbert is a fantastic name for a cat. I may actually try it on with one of my existing cats. He was brought in out of the alley too late to expect him to ever be fully tamed, and his name reflects that to some extent. But with a great deal of patience on both our parts, he's turned into quite the daddy's boy. Gilbert just might fit.
posted by wotsac at 10:57 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The usual advice is to give a dog a name with sibilance, with an s sound that the dog can hear.
How extremely pedestrian Shep and Spot seem compared to Pourquoi, Troy, Nosewise, Amiable, Nameles, Clenche, Bragge, Ringwood and Holdfast.
posted by Cranberry at 11:29 PM on June 29, 2013

Cerberus: The original Spot.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 11:43 PM on June 29, 2013

While Pangur Bán may have the better name, I think Jeoffry wins when it comes to poetry.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:44 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Names of Dogs in Ancient Greece. The longest list of suitable names for ancient Greek dogs—46 in all—was compiled by the dog whisperer Xenophon. Popular names for dogs in antiquity, translated from Greek, include Lurcher, Whitey, Blackie, Tawny, Blue, Blossom, Keeper, Fencer, Butcher, Spoiler, Hasty, Hurry, Stubborn, Yelp, Tracker, Dash, Happy, Jolly, Trooper, Rockdove, Growler, Fury, Riot, Lance, Pell-Mell, Plucky, Killer, Crafty, Swift, and Dagger.

Wikipedia's list of Xenophon's dog names in English: Psyche, Pluck, Buckler, Spigot, Lance, Lurcher, Watch, Keeper, Brigade, Fencer, Butcher, Blazer, Prowess, Craftsman, Forester, Counsellor, Spoiler, Hurry, Fury, Growler, Riot, Bloomer, Rome, Blossom, Hebe, Hilary, Jolity, Gazer, Eyebright, Much, Force, Trooper, Bustle, Bubbler, Rockdove, Stubborn, Yelp, Killer, Pele-mele, Strongboy, Sky, Sunbeam, Bodkin, Wistful, Gnome, Tracks, Dash.

(Ψυχή, Θυμός, Πόρπαξ, Στύραξ, Λογχή, Λόχος, Φρουρά, Φύλαξ, Τάξις, Ξίφων, Φόναξ, Φλέγων, Ἀλκή, Τεύχων, Ὑλεύς, Μήδας, Πόρθων, Σπέρχων, Ὀργή, Βρέμων, Ὕβρις, Θάλλων, Ῥώμη, Ἀνθεύς, Ἥβα, Γηθεύς, Χαρά, Λεύσσων, Αὐγώ, Πολύς, Βία, Στίχων, Σπουδή, Βρύας, Οἰνάς, Στέρρος, Κραύγη, Καίνων, Τύρβας, Σθένων, Αἰθήρ, Ἀκτίς, Αἰχμή, Νόης, Γνώμη, Στίβων, Ὁρμή. via.)

So, huh. Our modern Greek dog, "Sky," has an ancient Greek doggy name (but in English). Cool.
posted by taz at 1:16 AM on June 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

No Grimalkin? Was that later on? I'm starting to think I've been lying about the origin of my Grim's name!
posted by zinful at 3:31 AM on June 30, 2013

Pour quoi is totally a cat's name. I don't even. So cat all over the place.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:35 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

An Irish poem from the ninth century describes how a monk owned a cat named Pangur Bán, which meant ‘fuller white’.

Argh. In the first place, in Irish adjectives come after nouns, so Pangur Bán is White Pangur. What is Pangur? It's a name. As Hermocrates says here, "Pangur isn't an Irish word. It's actually the cat's name and could be of Welsh origin (pannwr)." Welsh pannwr means 'fuller,' but 1) there's no way of knowing if that's actually the source of the Irish name, and 2) even if it is (etymologically), there's no way of knowing if the cat's owner (the poet) knew that fact. The only honest way to translate the phrase is White Pangur (or, if one needs inversion for one's poem, Pangur White, though I personally dislike that sort of exoticism).

A separate issue is that bán doesn't actually mean 'white,' or rather that's only one element of its meaning; it means (quoting the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language) "white, fair, bright; pure, holy, blessed; pale; of a fight etc., bloodless." It is very often used in poetry in the sense 'fair'; compare another well-known Old Irish poem:

cia lassa fifea Etan
acht ro.fetar Etan ban
nicon.fifea a hoenuran.

"I don't know/ with whom Edan will sleep,/ but I know that fair Edan/ will not sleep alone."

So you can think of a white cat or just a nice-looking cat, as you wish.
posted by languagehat at 9:41 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

So Ban ki Moon means the Bright white light of the Moon?
posted by infini at 12:12 PM on June 30, 2013

Speichli--that's awesome! Change the spelling and you've named your pup after a kickass movie director.
posted by xenophile at 1:09 PM on June 30, 2013

Pangur Ban is a favorite, but I love all the little Irish cats named in the article.
posted by immlass at 5:20 PM on June 30, 2013

Gilbert is ruined as a cat's name because stupid Caiullu or however it's spelled named his cat that. Ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:29 PM on June 30, 2013

So Ban ki Moon means the Bright white light of the Moon?

One trolls languagehat at one's own peril. ;-)
posted by aught at 6:56 AM on July 1, 2013

I have a long-suffering-with-children yellow lab that I named Cerberus as a puppy, knowing she'd never live up to the name.

It's fun to tell strangers Cerbie's full name and see if they get the joke.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2013

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