Would T S Eliot have written poetry about this?

It’s something of an art form, and needs to be undertaken with a great deal of thought. Rushing into unsuitable choices will only end badly. There’s a fairly fine line between standing out from the crowd and looking like a total pillock. I refer, of course, to the selection of names for rats.

Naming pets generally can be a bit fraught, and open to all sorts of problems. When you have a large number of animals and a relatively rapid turnover, as it were, the problems multiply. How are you going to feel when that name which seemed like such a good idea at the time is called out in a crowded waiting room by an amused vet? Especially one where the custom is to append your surname to the animal’s name? Trying to hide in embarrassment is only going to cause you to miss your appointment. There are two ways to go – stick to safe, sensible, unembarrassing names, or be as unapologetic as possible about the whole thing. Safe, sensible names bore me, so no prizes for guessing which route we’ve taken.

Looking at a list of our rats’ names over the years (and yes, I do have such a document, with photos, stud names where relevant, ages at death, that sort of thing) I see a pleasant mixture of inspirational sources for names. Popular culture in various forms is a great source for anyone, naturally, and we have had singers (Sandie and Dusty), film stars (Fred and Ginger), characters from novels (Heidi and Clara) and names from mythology (Leda, Lyra, Aurora and Selene) but the greatest source for us could perhaps be seen as a loose confederation of sci-fi and fantasy media (mostly comics and graphic novels, but not exclusively). We have had Cally and Jenna (Blake’s 7) and from the pages of 2000AD came Magna and Chira, D.R. and Quinch, and Halo – the last three creations of the great Alan Moore, who also gave us Evey. Luther and Arkwright come from Bryan Talbot’s The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

Sometimes it’s just that a name appeals to you. Tallulah (for Tallulah Bankhead) was just a name I liked, so when two rescue girls were coming our way J pointed out that the second one would have to have a name that fitted, and so she became Zelda (for Mrs Fitzgerald). Domino was another – just a good name for a rat.

We often have conversations about great names, start to plan themes, way ahead of getting any new rats. Currently we’re planning a M*A*S*H theme, because Benjamin Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre are just too good to pass up, and there are so many other great names in there, but all for boys. Damn, that means I’m just going to have to have more boys… We have also mooted a few girls’ names from Dollhouse (Echo, November, Sierra and Whisky), but girls’ names are a lot harder. J recently suggested Grimly Fiendish for a boy, and if we go with that there’ll have to be an Ebenezer Goode as well. Considering that this came from a man who vetoed Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante for boys, and Bitesize, Peaches and Toxie for girls, I’m a little surprised. Maybe I can get a Bitesize out of it at some stage. Who knows?

Other people’s choices of names fascinate me too, especially the way fashions change. At one time everyone seemed to have a Buffy and a Willow, a Spike and an Angel. Lord of the Rings and Star Wars names seem to have fallen from favour at the moment, but were popular with breeders presumably because there are just so many names available – we have had rats descended from Darth Maul and Jar-Jar Binks. Once, visiting a breeder to pick up two girls, she was pointing out various of her boys and one was called Blake – I was holding my breath till she told us his cagemate’s name. Would it be a Blake’s 7 theme, as I was hoping, being the nerd that I am? It turned out to be Wordsworth, and therefore poets, and I confess to being disappointed that it wasn’t Avon or Vila. You couldn’t use Servalan, of course. Servalan is a cat’s name.

Sometimes you can’t plan ahead, and just have to wait for inspiration to strike once you get the rats home. We had no names in mind in July when we collected Cora and Clarice, but it was soon clear that we were going to have trouble telling them apart, so I suggested the names of the identical twin sisters in Gormenghast – perfect. I can now tell them apart fairly well – there is a difference in markings, and Cora is slightly smaller as well as being the more mischievous, but still at a casual glance it can be difficult.

Sticking to a theme which seemed a good idea at the time can be really hard. Our initial intention to use names of Alan Moore characters has ground to a halt after just four, as somehow his names just don’t work so well for rats. A few Watchmen names would be good for boys – Rorschach, Ozymandias and Dr Manhattan – but The Comedian? Nightowl? Silk Spectre? Maybe not. So even if you decide on a theme, you need to be sure it’s going to work.

At least for now we have some ideas, and as we’re not planning on any more rats in the immediate future, unless we get an offer we can’t refuse, we’ll have plenty of time to refine those ideas. I just hope we don’t talk ourselves out of the M*A*S*H theme – I’m looking forward to having a rat called Radar.

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