The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem The Naming Of Cats

21 Comments

  1. yashvardhan agarwal says:

    i like this poem very much
    i am very fond of poem and this is poem that is to be said whisper
    this poem has been teacher in choral recitation ……….

  2. Kirk says:

    Mr. Eliot I think is illustrating rather whimsically at first then quite profoundly on that quality that seams to separate cats from other animals. That ineffable “thing” that gives cats the appearance of walking between worlds with one paw in the spiritual and the other paws in the mundane.

    He is trying to describe something that cannot be properly conveyed in dualistic symbolic language; something that only the cat itself knows. So he uses a familiar concept essentially the same as “The Johari Window”. How a with each of us we have the public self or person that every one else sees, the private self that only close friends and family see, and finally the secret self that only we ourselves are privy to that no one else ever sees.

    By using the idea of cats having many names he is using the above social psychological concept to bring cats closer to us as beings and further from the other animals. This social concept is so inherently recognizable by most everyone even those with no instruction or knowledge of human psychology essentially because it is a basic and fundamental state of self awareness that most everyone on some level is conscious of.

    By giving cats this basic human trait via the many names he essentially separates them from our other pets and elevates their “status” from simple pet to that of “different but the same” types of beings.

    So he uses that unique ineffable “catness” quality that we all see and gives it meaning through a concept that we all understand on a very basic level (The Johari Window), and since we all recognize these two concepts at an almost subconscious level, we are left with that “ah HA!” fealing after reading the poem carefully. As if we and Mr Eliot now through this poem now know part of that secret that my cat “oreo” aka “MamasitaBabyGirl” knew all along.

  3. Jessie says:

    I have been studying this poem for a few weeks now and I must say that the imagination and sheer creativity that Eliot has used is absolutely admirable… astounding really. Anyone with comments or analysis to share please feel free to contact me.

  4. Bobthemallett says:

    T.S. Elliot mus be a good person to understand cats.
    Cats are independent and solitary . . . unless there’s a warm bed, a full stomach or a paticularly good scratch behind the ears on offer. (Some women note that men are much the same!)
    Cats are mysterious and predictable in equal measure – toally different to dogs our natural companions.
    But of you get the true love of a cat then it is worth all the more.
    It should be noted that I love All cats and All dogs unless they prove to be unfriendly – and most of them seem to like me too.
    Bob

  5. jim says:

    dogs are better

  6. marilyn mckinstry says:

    a cat has only one true name-his own. do humans believe they are god and can choose an animal’s name? do you name the squirrels and birds? we name our pets solely for our own conceit-and for remembrance.

  7. lilly says:

    i love this poem

  8. bre says:

    Isn’t is weird how theres a comedian called bil bailey and in the poem theres a cat called bill bailey? wel i think bill bailey’s great and he’s a genius so if its not his real name, we all know who to suspect…;)

  9. queen trixie the piratical says:

    i love this poem! it makes me want a cat, so i can give it names…sigh! Eliot is so clever! i mean, how dioes he come up with “jellylorum” and “coricopat”? must be because he’s a genius…And really!!!!!!!! how can anyone hate this poem? how ridiculous to even suggest! thank you ever so much, “toe” (?), for your input! egads! (is that not one of the most fun things to say???) erm, yes, anyways, me mates and i all love this and read my practical cats book instead of learning in geography…hey, who needs to know where south america is when you could be learning to recite the book by heart???

  10. toe says:

    ok,rox,just because you don’t like it or simply do not understand it doesn’t mean it’s awful..you should try writing like Eliot,see if you can do it and then you can judge one of the best poets literature has seen.poems like this one can’t possibly get their message through if people prefer to stick to the surface and not go deeper in meaning.and perhaps you’re right,having this as a subject for the contest might have been a bit too difficult for some,but hey only the best go to national…how do you expect to compete against the best in the country if you can’t even judge a poem(even if you didn’t like it)?

  11. myha says:

    Hi,Rox! I also went to the English olympiad last year..like rox.. I also remained puzzled when reading this abstract and non-sense poem. I also think it is very hard to understand and comment upon..it is highly …abstract..it requires a lot of philosophical sense .. despite this,I managed to find a fidden explanation for this poem ,suggesting that it referes to human beings and the contrast between appearance and essence..well,I took a beautiful mark maninly because of this poem…:)…but it’s difficult to understand,I agree.. well,good luck 4 the others in the following years at the English olympiad! 🙂

  12. Josie says:

    Cats are mysterious creatures….of course they have more than one name….if you know cats, you know this. for my Angel Cat, Tico is his earthly name; Coco is his nickname; his third name only he and I know, but on a different level. If you don’t understand now, you will when you expand to a higher level!

  13. ben Vonstein says:

    This poem is about human beings and their understanding and expression of who they truly are. Just as each cat holds its name secret so do we hold our true identities secret and hide under the name that those around us have given.

  14. serena says:

    please I’m writing my dissertation about this poem and the whole book of practical cats, if you can help me with the analysis of the book, send me anything please!!!!!

  15. none says:

    this is a decent poem….but it does actually have a meaning…it is the meaning of your name…Eliot uses cats to reprsent humans, and what their name means to them…

  16. buggaboo says:

    “No ordinary man could think that cats had secret names.”

    What? Are you nuts? Anyone who’s ever owned a cat would know this. Don’t be stupid!

  17. Cleta says:

    I love this poem. It seems to me, not much different today. If a person shows cats or dogs, the usually have a name the family calls them and then the name used in showing the cat or dog. Of course Cats more than dogs have the name that no one else knows. Cats are more secret and spiritual, so of course they wouldn’t tell anyone their special name that only they know.

  18. Bob da builder! says:

    Like, I, like, am, like addicted to, like, this, like, poem. Dude.

  19. Daniel says:

    This poem is one of the secrets of the great seducers. If a young man recites this poem from memory and can make a nourishing soup from scratch, he will never lack someone to love.

  20. rox says:

    they gave us for the school’s olympiad in english to comment this poem…..yeap, the poem is baffling but it was a silly thing to give it as a subject…there are no hidden meanings in this poem, the are no ancestral thoughts, there is nothing special, nor peculiar about this poem….frankly i hate it…and i hate all those examinateurs, too……i won’t pass the olympiad because of this stupid shitty poem,,,,, well, that’s all. to conclude, i didn’t like the poem….someone should better try to rewrite it….bye!

  21. anon says:

    T.S. Eliot has a very unique writing style that is all his own. This particular poem makes me think about what he was thinking when he wrote it, and how the idea came about his mind. No ordinary man could think that cats had secret names. His poems are very peculiar, but yet, they are very entertaining and fun. I loved this play too. I saw it on Broadway, and the cats walked down the eisles while saying this poem. I had to memorize it for school too, so i was saying it in my head as they said it.

Leave a Reply to lilly Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by T.S. Eliot better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.