I changed my cat’s name when I got married. I don’t mean that I changed his last name to take on my husband’s. I changed his first name in the hopes of changing his personality. I had named the cat Giallo, on account of his yellow eyes. At the time I’d adopted the cat I had been dating an Italian man, so I thought I was being slick naming him yellow in Italian. Unfortunately, I happened to be one of those jerks, who, because I was dating an Italian man-- despite that I was quasi-Jewish* -- I was one of those jerks who walked around saying Ciao to people. One medium coffee at Dunkin Donuts and two cents change was all the license I needed to say "Grazie, Ciao!" to the clerk.
In any event, Giallo didn’t understand Ciao and he surely didn’t understand the word No—in Italian or English. He was what one might call an unpredictable animal. I’d be petting him and he’d be purring and pushing the top of his head up against my palm when quite suddenly, he would turn and nip. I eventually learned to anticipate his behavior shift and would grab the scruff of his neck to remind him that I was the Alpha cat, but I hated the whole ordeal. Why couldn’t I just have a cat that curled up like other cats and accepted endless petting?
Ten years after that first nip, I met my husband who was not a fan of Giallo’s name simply because when—in the effort of full disclosure to my soulmate, I disclosed way too many sordid details of that relationship aforementioned…. And let me just say here, ladies, take heed: even if you think you met your soulmate, he does not need to know the whereabouts and howabouts of every sexual encounter with the ex, even if after a sharing a bottle of wine, he convinces you that you can tell him anything, and that he really wants to hear everything to truly understand you. Then again, any sober woman reading this already knows that.
So, one hangover later and all the gory details disclosed, my husband began to hate all things Italian. And while I could sympathize with his competitive feelings, it’s kind of hard to hate tomato sauce and wine. It’s even harder to live without them. Empathetically, I ate Mexican a lot in those days, and Chinese, and experimented with French wines and Russian vodka. Still, it did not detract from the fact that my cat had an Italian name, and I never knew just how often I said my animals name until I tried not to say it.
And then one day after reading through a name book, and agreeing that the authors really had gotten the gist of Heather right, seeing that I was a turtledove of love and affection and goodness, not to mention how creative and inspirational I was, I decided to give Giallo a name change—for the benefit of my husband’s pride and ego, and the benefit of the cat. Why shouldn’t he have the same equal opportunities as a Boots or a Mittens?
First I decided to change his name it to Jollo, to give it an American spelling, but it didn’t really have the aural impact I was looking for. Plus it sounded a little too much like Jello rolling off the tongue, and I didn’t want the cat to develop a complex about his hanging belly. I widened my scope, and went for the complete overhaul, a complete personality change. Thus I named him Jolly.
And do you know what happened?
Absolutely nothing. Except that everyone I reintroduced Giallo to as Jolly thought I was nuts, and their response made me realize over time that my husband, quite frankly, had to get over his ridiculous issues as well as his Italian boycott, grow up, and take me out for some Tagliatelli Pomodoro pronto.
As for Jolly, age mellowed him out.
*(To clarify: if push came to shove and I had to choose between the great abyss of nothingness for eternity or being a “chosen one,” I would venture to describe myself with as having sparks of a Jewish soul.)