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:

    Atkinson (1993) reported that maintenance of weight reduction for one particular program. The interest of the study concerns
    The physicist was the initial subject: he carried his pail to the spigot,
    A: Well hung.
    bucket in the sky? This won’t transpire with grad. students.
    * Skins are distinct colors, but the inside could be the same chocolate, because most of us
    \verb|\newtheorem* |
    directly to appreciate. Also, God/dess will manage you.
    Nymphomaniacal Alice,
    Our shit will manage itself.
    1. President of the most important steel company?
    DEAYTON: I’ve…
    DEAYTON: In this article we go again… I’ll be backstage if any individual wants me.
    \noindent defines a fresh environment called \verb|joke| which often prints the
    Robyn walked with me and Jane. “Don’t mind her,” Robyn mentioned. “Even when she 36 over other and normally irrelevant standards of feminine beauty.”

  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.”

  20. John Cowan says

    Nymphomaniacal Alice

    The ur-limerick of the family of limericks that begin thus turns out to have been written by Hugo Friedhofer (1901-1981), perhaps the greatest American orchestra composer of his day, now almost forgotten because his works were film scores. Friedhofer was said (by his friend Dave Raksin) to have suffered from delusions of inadequacy, and to have sustained a dark view of everything that survived personal successes that might have tempted a lesser man towards optimism.

  21. @John Cowan:  Hugo Friedhofer is indeed forgotten; I myself was only vaguely aware of him, and I could not have identified any of the films he worked on.  However, just the fact that his work was overwhelmingly on film scores is not, on its own, enough to explain why he is so forgotten.  His contemporaries, Erich Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Hermann* **—as well as composers a generation younger, like Elmer Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams (still living)—who worked primarily on film are still fairly well known, and parts of their scores have made it into the regular classical concert repertoire.  (The Danish National Symphony Orchestra has done a lot of soundtrack performances that are available on YouTube.  Concert-hall performances of Morricone’s film scores can be particularly interesting, since he often called for the use of unusual instruments and sound effects.)  However, this has not happened with the music of Friedhofer, although I cannot really say why.  I will try listening to some of his compositions this afternoon, to see whether there might be an artistic reason why this might have happened.

    * For example, there are several recordings online of Hermann’s main theme from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, including one conducted by Hermann himself.  However, all of them, including Hermann’s are a bit slower than the version actually used in the soundtrack, directed by Kurt Graunke, and the version I have in my personal playlist is the faster original.

    ** Bernard Hermann was also the basis of legal question I have idly wondered about for many years.  Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film The Man Who Knew Too Much includes a standard disclaimer near the end of the credits that all individuals depicted in the film are fictional and no resemblance to real persons and events is intended, any such resemblances being coincidental.  However, the statement as thus presented is obviously false, since Hermann appears as himself in the film, conducting the key piece of music during which the political assassination that drives the plot is supposed to take place.  (His name is actually shown on a poster advertising the concert, so there can be no doubt.)  The question I have is:  What affect this would have if there had been an actual lawsuit involving the question of whether the events and individuals in the film were or were not based on ones from real life?  It seems to me that the manifest falsity of the disclaimer in respect to Hermann’s appearance would militate against the presumption that it was valid in regard to other subject matter.  It makes it look the disclaimer was just boilerplate slapped onto the film, without taking into account whether it was accurate.***

    In the case of The Man Who Knew Too Much, there was probably little danger of anyone claiming that the film was copied from their real life.  Most obviously, it was a remake of an earlier film from Hitchcock’s British period, rather than a new story; and the things that were added for the 1956 version, such as additional musical elements and a fight scene at a taxidermist shop, very obviously could only be fiction.  The 1934 original, starring Peter Lorre as the principal villain (Lorre’s first English-language film****) is actually not that great, in my opinion.  Even though I am a fan of Hitchcock’s earlier British period—I think The Thirty-Nine Steps and the somewhat similar Young and Innocent are among his very best films—I was quite disappointed with The Man Who Knew Too Much.

    The 1956 remake is better made in every way—although it lacks an actor as compelling as Lorre for the villain, and the plot does not make as much sense in the 1950s as it would have in the 1930s. My father described that assassination plot in the film as quintessential “Balkan politics in the 1930s,” whereas by 1956, realistic European villains should have been communists, which would have changed the valance of the story quite a bit. In fact, the 1956 villains are actually quite a bit less nasty than Lorre’s gang from 1934. The other thing I find tricky about the remake is Hitchcock’s idea of making the film a diegetic musical. The original film had an assassination to take place during a concert, with the noise covered by a climactic cymbal crash. The 1934 film used a piece, “The Storm Clouds Cantata” by Australian composer Arthur Benjamin, specifically written for the film, and Hitchcock offered Bernard Hermann (to come back to the head topic of this extended footnote) the opportunity to write a new piece to replace it in the remake; however, Hermann opted to keep Benjamin’s piece. With the remake, Hitchcock, as he often did, also tried to push the boundaries of what was normally done in filmmaking—in this case by introducing other plot-relevant music into the story. This led to casting Doris Day as the female lead and having her sing “Que Sera, Sera” a couple times. I’m not actually sure how I feel about this aspect of the film. On the one hand, both the song “Que Sera, Sera” itself, and the fact that Day’s character is a minor celebrity, actually play significant roles in the plot. On the other hand, the early scene in which Day and Christopher Olsen (as her son) sing the song the whole way through can tend to break up the flow of the story.

    *** At the height of its popularity, around 2000, the NBC drama series Law & Order started showing promos describing upcoming episodes as “ripped from the headlines,” and the plots of many episodes were clearly inspired by real events.  Despite the fact that the producers and network were using the real-life inspiration for the episode storylines as a selling point, it took several months before the show updated their disclaimer.  There were many weeks of shows that were advertised as inspired by actual events but still had disclaimers at the end stating otherwise.  I was actually pretty surprised that the lawyers from Standards and Practices let this happen.  The disclaimer was eventually changed to a more accurate one—stating that the foregoing was strictly a work of fiction, although it may have been inspired by actual events.  However, it seemed that the regular disclaimer was applied with so little thought that nobody who mattered may have noticed the discrepancy for quite an extended period.

    **** Lorre, like Hitchcock, started working in his home country (adopted home country, in Lorre’s case; he was born in Austria-Hungary), before attracting enough attention to move to bigger filmmaking centers elsewhere.  Obviously, for Lorre, the key performance that garnered him international attention was in Fritz Lang’s M in 1931.  It was largely on the strength of that film that Lorre got his part in The Man Who Knew Too Much; the Jewish Lorre had fled Germany after the Nazi takeover and met Ivor Montagu (who, like Hitchcock, had seen M) in Paris, and Montagu got Lorre the job with Hitchcock

  22. His contemporaries, Erich Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Hermann

    You’ve omitted the immortal Nino Rota, who would merit inclusion for his Gattopardo score even if he’d never written anything else; the Valzer del commiato breaks my heart every time.

    The 1956 remake is better made in every way

    Except for the fact that it’s a musical starring Doris Day and featuring “Que Sera, Sera”; whatever its theoretical virtues, my wife and I reject it on those grounds. (We recently watched the earlier version and enjoyed it quite a bit; it’s very silly, of course, but many Hitchcock movies are if you analyze them rationally, and Lorre makes an excellent lead — it’s a nice change from his usual villain roles.)

  23. @languagehat: When I say “better made,” I mean as matter of filmmaking technique—although that entails a lot of different elements. (See here for my earlier comments on how Termintator 2 was better made than The Terminator; I still think the original is better film though.) As to the fact that the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much is a diegetic musical, as I said above: I’m not actually sure how I feel about this aspect of the film. I’m certainly not a fan of Doris Day musicals. (I am never going to sit through The Glass Bottom Boat again unless my life depends on it.) However, I think including the additional music was an interesting effort on Hitchcock’s part, and I do appreciate that almost all the musical scenes are directly relevant to the plot.

  24. As promised, I listened to a whole bunch of film score compositions by Hugo Friedhofer, and I’m afraid that I can see why he has been largely forgotten. The reality is that, with maybe one exception, the pieces I listened to were all instantly forgettable. Most of the Friedhofer compositions I heard were done in very conventional late-ninteenth-century Romantic style. They were quite competently executed, but they did not really have any features to make them stand out; there really was no sense of originality or a style unique to the composer. There were also a few pieces that introduced some jazz-inspired elements, which were a bit more interesting, although never like the integration of classical and jazz styles found in such contemporary composers as, for example Darius Milhaud (who wrote both film scores and concert works). The only piece that may any real impression on me was this theme from the 1958 war film The Young Lions. It reminded me of World-War-II-era dance dance band music (think Glenn Miller’s “Moolight Seranade”) rescored for a standard classical string-centered orchestra.

  25. Thanks for saving me the trouble. I find most movie scores forgettable at best, annoying at worst (usually the bombastic fake-classical kind so prevalent in the early ’50s). That’s why I value the few great ones so much.

  26. John Emerson says

    The greatest movie score of all was Prokofiev’s score for Eisenstein’s “Alexander Nevsky”. I also liked Penderecki’s score for “The Saragossa Manuscript”.

  27. @John Emerson: It might be interesting to compare scores written by composers who primarily (or at least most notably*) wrote film scores** to those (like Prokofiev, Penderecki, or Milhaud) better known for their concert pieces. Concert composers might have been more discerning in the film work they selected—or they might not.

    * All of the film composers that have been mentioned above composed other works as well. However, for many of them, the film work was their primary occupation (and even for some who did not consider scoring films to be their real profession, it may have been their principal source of income). There are also other, lesser genres of modern classical music besides those. One of John Williams’s most important works is his Fanfare and Theme for the 1984 Olympics. (His theme for the 1996 Olympics was disappointing in comparison.) Philip Glass also composed what may be his least minimal work as part of the soundtrack for the 1984 Games. (Some of Glass’s more purist fans accused him of selling out—to “Big Melody,” I suppose).

    ** I think incidental music composition for stage plays should be more common. There should be a middle ground between opera and musicals (where the music is the main focus, with the plot often built around it) and non-musical theater. There is no reason that plays cannot have the same kinds of incidental scores as films (although I can obviously see how adding a full orchestral score to a play will make it harder and more expensive to produce). There are a few famous examples. A number of composers have scored incidental music for plays by Shakespeare’s plays; obviously, the masterpiece among them is Mendelssohn’s work on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” There are also a few examples where the composer created the music contemporaneously and in consultation with the playwright; again, there is a single shining example—Grieg and Ibsen (the greatest Norwegian composer and the greatest Norwegian playwright) collaborating to create the musical version of “Peer Gynt.” However, I wish there were more prominent examples than just these and a few others.

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