Name that pet – medieval style

Updated at 9.40 on Jul 15, 2013 as image did not post correctly


This is Pepper, one of our two cats. Naming her was a small challenge, because it took a while for my wife and I to agree.

I wonder what we would have come up with had I seen this post at – medieval pet names. Having trouble naming your dog? Well, there wasn’t quite an app for that, but there was a book.

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.

I like that Nameles was a suitable name for a dog. It’s a bit quirky, like Odysseus telling the cyclops his name is “No one”  (though hopefully the dog’s naming wasn’t a question of life or death).

Years ago I read the poem Pangur Bán, a medieval Irish poem about a cat written in a manuscript alongside Latin hymns and Greek grammar. You can see the poem here; it’s in the bottom half of the right-hand page. I could have sworn I was taught that it meant “white panther” but it actually means something along the lines of “fuller white” (I still like my translation better). Either way, it’s a lovely tribute to a cat who is obviously a good companion of the writer; anybody who has had a cat knows they can provide great companionship, especially if you’re in a solitary pursuit like writing. The poem is referenced in the article linked to above, but there’s a full translation here.

Messe agus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria shaindán:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im shaincheirdd

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