MEDIEVAL PET NAMES. has a nice post on what people in the Middle Ages called their pets:

In England we find dogs that were named Sturdy, Whitefoot, Hardy, Jakke, Bo and Terri. Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of King Henry VIII, had a dog named Purkoy, who got its name from the French ‘pourquoi’ because it was very inquisitive.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest Tale has a line where they name three dogs: Colle, Talbot and Gerland. Meanwhile, in the early fifteenth-century, Edward, Duke of York, wrote The Master of Game, which explains how dogs are to be used in hunting and taken care of. He also included a list of 1100 names that he thought would be appropriate for hunting dogs. They include Troy, Nosewise, Amiable, Nameles, Clenche, Bragge, Ringwood and Holdfast. …

In medieval England domestic cats were known as Gyb – the short form of of Gilbert – and that name was also popular for individual pet cats. … Other names for cats included Mite, who prowled around Beaulieu Abbey in the 13th century, and Belaud, a grey cat belonging to Joachim du Bellay in the 16th century. Isabella d’Este also owned a cat named Martino. Old Irish legal texts refer to several individual cats and names them: Meone (little meow); Cruibne (little paws); Breone (little flame, perhaps an orange cat), and Glas nenta (nettle grey). An Irish poem from the ninth century describes how a monk owned a cat named Pangur Bán, which meant ‘fuller white’. The poem begins:

I and Pangur Bán, my cat
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

“Pangur Bán” is everybody’s favorite Old Irish poem; you can see the original text with translation en face here, and hear it read (in Modern Irish pronunciation) here. But I object strongly to the alleged translation “fuller white”; 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. (Thanks, Rick!)


  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Not mediaeval (18th century) but I like Christopher Smart’s poem that begins
    For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
    For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
    For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
    For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
    For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
    This has been set to music, and I was once in a choir where we sang it.
    From the same period, of course, we have Dr Johnson’s cat Hodge:
    I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’
    Not really relevant, as we don’t know the name of Montaigne’s cat (at least I don’t), but I was amused to see this on the wall of a colleague in England who didn’t know the everyday slang meaning of chatte in modern French:
    Quand je me jouë à ma chatte, qui sçait, si elle passe son temps de moy plus que je ne fay d’elle ?

  2. Gyb – the short form of of Gilbert
    Is ‘Gilbert’ another one, like ‘solder’ and ‘golf’, where the L used not (ought not) to be pronounced?

  3. dearieme says:

    I’ve never met a Scot, however ancient, who did not pronounce the “l” in golf. But then I’ve never met anyone at all who didn’t pronounce the “l” in solder. When did such pronunciations die?
    On t’other hand I do remember the boyish pronunciation that so-and-so wanted to be a “sodger” when he grew up.
    P.S. Soldering is an exception to the claimed rule that you never forget physical skills – I soldered fifty years ago and now can’t remember much about it except that useful word “flux”. As in “pass the bloody flux, ho, ho”.

  4. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I agree about “soldier” — I don’t think I’d ever say it without the l, but I’ve heard it said that way.
    There is also “Ralph”, which I’m told is pronounced as if spelt “Rafe” by the classier owners of the name.

  5. Americans say “sodder” for solder…

  6. Yes, we discussed that back in 2004 (I can’t believe it’s been that long!).

  7. AJP Cown says:

    My wife just started doing it (soddering). It’s quite difficult to know if you’re doing it correctly. I always said ‘solder’ until I read in that 2004 post that it’s a spelling pronunciation, so now I say it the proper odd-fashioned (American) way. Same with goff, except that the L absence isn’t really as distinct as it is with solder.

  8. I grew up hearing and saying the words “gulf” and “golf” as homonyms. Later I worked out that most people say “golf” a bit differently, and I corrected my pronunciation. I still don’t know whether one of my parents said it funny, or whether I just wasn’t paying attention.
    I’m talking about the vowel sound; I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word with silent L.

  9. James Marchand’s translation of “Pangur Bann” as “White Felix”, based on the fact that Old Irish speakers would have identified “Pangur” as a cat’s name, definitely has much to recommend it.

  10. Daria Lieven says:

    Tray, Blanche and Sweetheart – see, they bark at me.

  11. “Tray, Blanch and Sweetheart – see, they bark at me.”
    These are great dog names; I’d love to get Tray back especially. Thank you, Shakespeare. (Gonoril – not such a good name; sounds like an STD ointment).

  12. The American lyricist Stephen Foster wrote the sentimental song “Old Dog Tray” (YouTube, lyrics) in 1853, though it is not so well known today as “Oh, Susanna!”, “Camptown Races”, or “Old Folks at Home” (aka “Swanee River”). Perhaps the dog-name was already felt as old-fashioned then. Foster came by his death less than a mile from my house, alone and in poverty, but his posthumously published “Beautiful Dreamer” was a huge success, and has been used in innumerable movies and TV shows.
    By an odd coincidence, when I first loaded the lyrics page linked above, the ad being shown was for solder, or something to do with solder — I only saw it briefly, and when I reloaded the page I of course got a different ad. I myself gave up soldering in my youth when I incautiously laid my right hand down on a hot iron (the old-fashioned type without a trigger), burning off the skin on the backs of four of my proximal phalanges.
    I have been known to say “Hodge shall not be shot” on occasion, by way of reassurance.

  13. Just the other day I thought of soldering irons for probably the first time in years. I can’t remember what prompted me: some ad or sign in the physical world. It brought back memories of my father, a basement workbench, an unusual hot smell, and wondering if that was really the right way to pronounce it.
    I never burned myself with a soldering iron, John, but in eighth grade our “industrial arts” teacher unwisely trusted me to be the person to measure electrical currents for other young experimenters, with the result that over and over I jolted myself with 110 volts by touching wires to the wrong part of the damn ammeter. A budding absent-minded professor.

  14. (Got deleted with the spam.)
    It isn’t clear to me whether Morrison Foster says Stephen’s setter was actually named Tray or just the inspiration.

  15. All from one spam, minus the actual advertising, and with just a bit of copy editing:

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  16. Good lord. How long until a piece of spam wins the National Book Award?

  17. CuConnacht says:

    The first lines of Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs to Daddy are
    While tearing off
    A game of golf
    I may
    Make a play
    For the caddy.
    But when I do
    I don’t follow through
    For my heart belongs to daddy.
    So he (Yale 1913) apparently didn’t pronounce the :l:.

  18. There’s a proverb “Brag is a good dog, but Holdfast is a better.” Meaning deeds are better than words. Interesting to see those names in an old list.
    There’s also an English folksong “Dido, Bendigo” with the following names:
    There was Dido, Bendigo, Gentry he was there-o
    Traveler he never looked behind him.
    There was Countess, Rover, Bonnie Lass and Jover
    These were the hounds that could find him.
    The Kipper Family did a parody of that song that went:
    Dido, Fido, Bonzo and Rex
    Rover and Lassie and Spot
    There was Butch, there was Candy
    There was Patch and there was Sandy
    These were the dogs what I had got.
    But Fido (Latin for “I trust”) really is an old dog name.

  19. Further note on “Dido, Bendigo”:
    Sabine Baring-Gould took the words and melody from a man named James Oliver and printed it in his Songs of the West under the title The Duke’s Hunt. He says: “This is a mere cento from a long ballad, entitled The Fox Chase, narrating a hunt by Villiers, second duke of Buckingham, in the reign of Charles II. It is in the Roxburgh Collection and was printed by W. Oury, circa 1650.”

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