Saturday, March 29, 2008

Roman Cat Names

Despite their less demonstrative nature, the Romans admired the cat almost as much as the Egyptians. They certainly appreciated them more than the Greeks did. For instance, Romans considered the cat to be a the god of liberty. Cats were the only animal allowed in Roman temples. Some Romans considered the cat a household god representing the warmth and security of the home. At Roman funerals, sacrifices were made to the cat insuring protection in the afterlife for the deceased. At Roman weddings, sacrifices were made to the cat insuring a prosperous future.

All this suggests that the cat played something of a governing role in the civic life of the average Roman citizen. Roman myths are often graced by the presence of cats. In fact, one tale tells of the goddess Diana's transformation into a cat so she might escape the evil forces of the dragon-like creature, Typhon. By some accounts, Diana was considered the protector of cats, while other accounts demonstrate just how contradictory ancient lore can be by associating her with dogs!

Cats were often kept as mascots by the Roman army. It has been said that cats "marched with the Legions," and it's not too great a stretch to speculate that these peripatetic Roman Legions may have contributed greatly to the worldwide spread of domestic cats. Since many of these Roman gods are nearly identical to Greek gods, this section will often refer you to the entry describing the Greek equivalent, while also providing any unique attributes the Romans may have added along the way.

ANGERONA (Ann'-Jer-Oh'-Nah; Female): With Angerona we get a rare example of an indigenous Roman goddess. The only problem is, we don't know very much about her. This is fitting since one of the few things we do know about her is that she was the goddess of secrecy. It's believed that she might have been the guardian of secret names. If you knew the secret name of something, you could control it. Angerona was probably charged with the important task of protecting the secret name of Rome. She is depicted with a gag in her mouth, and right index finger to her lips signifying silence. Since that's about all we know of her, I'd say she did a good job. In his poem "The Naming Of Cats", T.S. Eliot makes a point reminiscent of Angerona: But above and beyond there's still one name left over, / And that is the name that you never will guess; / The name that no human research can discover-/ But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess. A name for a mysteriously surreptitious cat.

BACCHUS (Bahk'-Us; Male): was the god of wine, revelry, fertility, vegetation, and hedonism. If he sounds like a softened copy of DIONYSUS, that's because he is. However, there were some differences. Being more of a happy drunk, Bacchus wasn't really as big a jerk as the sullen and morbid alcoholic, Dionysus. One can imagine Bacchus, joyously intoxicated, gladly pouring his friends never-ending goblets of the finest wine while everyone commences to sing merrily, Dionysus on the other hand, can be pictured as filthy drunk. In Bacchus, the Romans also emphasized the aspect of agricultural rebirth far suited more than the Greeks. As with Dionysus, Bacchus is a name suited for a rowdy cat, though less grouchy and filled with more vitality.

BELLONA (Bell-Oh'-Nah; Female. ): Here's a name for an aggressive cat. Bellona, the goddess of war, seems to be a Roman invention. When a gladiator managed to outlive his many opponents, he was often asked to serve as one of Bellona's priests within her temple. This temple was sometimes used as a tool of psychological intimidation toward foreign diplomats since it was the place where the Roman senate would arrange to meet with them. It didn't always work, but when you consider that the Roman Empire ruled the civilized world for over 500 years, it seems to have worked well enough.

CERES (Sir'-Eez; Female. See Greek goddess, DEMETER): She was the goddess of corn and crops in general. Her festival, held on April 19, was called the Cerealis. Yes, we do getour word cereal from her name. Good for a motherly cat, or for a silent and mystifying cat.

CUPID (Kyoo'-Pid; Male. See Greek god, EROS): The cherubic god of love, and son of Venus. The Romans didn't take this fellow seriously at all. Compared to the heavy and powerful emotions Eros represented to the Greeks, Cupid was nothing more than a farcical weakling always up to crazy mischief. Still, Cupid is a much better name for an affectionate cat than, say, "Mr. Love-Kitty."

DIANA (Dye-Ann'-Ah; Female, See Greek goddess, ARTEMIS): The Romans knew her as the virgin huntress and goddess of the wilderness. At Lake Nemi, located north of Rome, Diana's Temple stood amidst a grove of oak trees. Legend holds that if an escaped slave could make it to this Temple, he could challenge the incumbent priest/custodian to a duel. If the slave succeeded in killing the priest, he won the privilege of appropriating the job for himself. This guaranteed him sanctuary, abundant meals, and respect as the sitting priest/custodian of the Temple to Diana--that is, until he too was slain by an exigent slave, running just as he had once run. There are several reasons why you might want to name your cat after Diana. For instance, you might recognize a certain wildness in your pet that recalls the goddess's love of the wild, or you may have a cat that is an excellent hunter.

FAUNA (Faw'-Nah; Female) FAUNUS ( Faw'-Nuhs; Male): Goddess and god of crops, herds, and fertility. These two were uniquely Roman, though most cultures have similar gods. In true Roman fashion, both of their festivals (Fauna's was in December; Faunus' had his on February 15, a wild celebration called the Lupercalia) were loud and boisterous affairs filled with kinky shenanigans like you wouldn't believe. For example, during the celebration of Fauna, only women were allowed to participate in the goddess's secret rites. Men were not allowed anywhere near the observances, which makes sense since they were actually huge lesbian orgies. That didn't stop Publius Clodius, who in 62 B.C. got into drag and crashed one of the many sites where these covert "ceremonies" were taking place. Obviously it didn't take long before he was found out. This caused a huge scandal that shook Rome to its foundations. It didn't help matters that the rites were being held in the home of a guy named Pontifex Maximus, who later went on to great fame under the name of Julius Caesar. As for the rituals performed by the men during the revelries of Faunus, they were not unlike those performed by the women during their orgies to Fauna. The difference was, at THIS festival women were not only allowed to participate, they were encouraged. The gala affair was basically a purification rite, with the men running around naked, screaming and yelling while whipping the backs of women crawling on all fours who wished to become pregnant during the coming year. And these were the people that ruled the ancient world for over five centuries. Needless to say, this set of names workswell with a pair of uninhibited housecats.

FERONIA (Fair-Oh'-Nee-Ah; Female): Not a very active goddess, but a goddess with a very beautiful name. She was simply the goddess of spring flowers. Pretty name for just about any cat.

FLORA (Flor'-Ah; Female): Another goddess of flowers and specifically of fruit bearing trees. Her festival was celebrated in April and May. Again, this pretty name would suit most any cat.

FORTUNA (For-Too'-Nah; Female): Worshippers of Fortuna would tell "fortunes" by randomly picking notes of counsel from a ritual vase. From this custom evolved one of our most well known methods of fortune telling-cartomancy, or the reading of cards. I suppose you can add fortune cookies to that as well. That's not all that Fortuna has bequeathed to our time. Since among her symbolic attributes were the sphere and the wheel, that common game of chance known as the Wheel of Fortune (yes, like the T.V. show) is her direct descendent. All this taken into consideration, it follows that this name should go to only the most lucky and fortunate of cats. Better still, if your cat seems to be the source of good luck and fortune (the type of cat the French call matagots, e.g. Dick Whittington's cat), then why not honor her with this important name?

JANUS (Jan'-Us; Male): Essentially, he was the god of beginnings. The first month of the year was named for him, and the first day of each month was set aside to pay him homage. But Janus was also the god of endings, of completion and success. He ruled all comings and goings, arrivals and departures, including the rising and setting of the sun and seasonal changes as well. He was an extremely popular god. Most Roman families kept a small statue of him by the doorways of their homes since Janus was the god of both coming and going. Because of this, he was thought of as the protector of doorways and passages, watching over all who entered and all who exited. To emphasize his dual nature, Janus was depicted as having two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward, so he could greet all arriving guests and give blessing to all those who departed. Today we continue to remember this god, though over the centuries all his positive characteristics have been forgotten. Only his two-faced countenance is commemorated, and not flatteringly at that. To say someone is <>Janus-faced is simply a fancy way of calling them a hypocrite. Of course, this name should be given to one of those cats that makes a hobby of begging to be let outside, only to start meowing for you to let them back in the house a few minutes later. You know the type...

JUNO (Joo'-No; Female; See Greek goddess, HERA): Like Hera, Juno was the queen of the heavens and of the gods. Wife of Jupiter. At first she was designated as the protectress of all matrons within Rome. Later her responsibilities expanded to include the welfare of the entire Roman state, from matters of national security to economic growth. During her March festival known as the Matronalia, the Roman housewife was exalted. Like her Greek counterpart, peacocks were sacred to Juno, but she also favored geese. Good thing, too. Around 390 B.C. the Gauls mounted an attack against the city of Rome, arousing the sacred geese of Juno's temple to cry out the alarm. From then on the goddess was known as Juno Moneta ("to warn"). Much later a mint was established near one of her temples and the coins manufactured there were also nicknamed moneta, which over the centuries evolved into the English word "money". That aside, you might want to give this name to a respectable, socially upright kitty who enjoys spending summers at her beach house in the Hamptons. If your cat doesn't have a beach house in the Hamptons...well then tough.

JUPITER (Joo'-Pit-Er; Male; See Greek god ZEUS)Supreme god and Lord of the heavens. Actually Jupiter was a bit more serious minded and official than the perpetually philandering Zeus. This is just what you'd expect from the Romans-all politics. But a supreme god is a supreme god, and Jupiter still brandished the lightening bolts when he felt like it. Apart from his bureaucratic side, Jupiter was also the great god of abundance, wealth, and happiness. Also called Jove. If your cat deserves to be named after the king of all Roman gods, believe me, you'll know it.

LIBITINA (Lye-Bih-Tee'-Nah; Female): Another beautiful Latin name. Unfortunately Libitina was the goddess of funerals. But why should that stop you from naming your cat after her? I doubt anyone is around who remembers.

MAIA (May'-Ah; Female): Fertility goddess for which the month of May was named. Appropriately enough, her festival was observed on the first of that month-May Day; a holiday that is celebrated even now in some places. Actually, this unusual holiday has a rather macabre history. It all started innocently. To the Romans it was nothing more than a floral festival commemorating the Springtime return of vegetation. Young girls would make garlands out of flowers and distribute them throughout the city of Rome, hanging them on any and every door they came upon. Centuries later, after Rome had adopted Christianity as the state religion, the garlands remained part of the celebrations only now they were believed to protect homes from the forces of evil that were thought to run rampant on that day. Now why would the early Christians think that evil spirits would come out on such a sweet holiday as May Day? Because they had become familiar with a Celtic holiday called Beltane, also celebrated on May first. Beltane was a pagan festival celebrating the beginning of Celtic summer. The festival began on the eve of May first with a holiday known as Walpurgisnacht. On that night, witches observed their greatest Sabbath when they were said to be given fresh new powers for the coming year. The next night, during the celebrations of Beltane, huge bonfires were lit, animal sacrifices were made, and straw men were ceremoniously set ablaze. With all this wild activity taking place in various reaches of the empire, naturally the Christians were concerned. And so, like the good Christians they were, they decided to beat the pagans at their own game. Thus May Day became a holiday set aside for the burning of witches. Remember that next time you see a ribbon laden Maypole. If you name your kitty after Maia, just keep in mind the bizarre way her lovely holiday was twisted around. If your cat happens to be a familiar spirit, perhaps this name will delight her with the overdue satisfaction of getting the last laugh over those fanatics of long ago.

MARS (Mahrz; Male; See Greek god ARES): Julius Caesar should have listened to that old soothsayer who warned him to "beware the Ides of March." About the most hazardous time of the year during the reign of the Roman Empire was the month of March, named for this god of war and retribution. Since March was the month of one of Mars' festivals, sacrifices were made to him the whole month long. This had the tendency of whipping the population into violence and war frenzy whether it was called for or not. March 14th, the famous Ides of March, turned out to be quite hazardous indeed for the ambitious Caesar. On that date in the year 44 B.C. he was assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and other conspiratorial members of the Roman Senate because they believed he was getting too big for his britches. This poorly thought out deed plunged Rome (which was at that time still a Republic) into a horrible civil war between the forces of Brutus and the combined armies of Marc Antony and Octavian. Brutus was defeated, but then Antony and Octavian began fighting. Finally, in the year 31 B.C. after 13 years of civil war, Octavian defeated Antony and his new ally/lover Cleopatra during the naval the battle at Actium. This spelled the end of the Roman Republic and initiated the long line of Roman Emperors beginning with Octavian who took the name Caesar Augustus. See what happens when Mars feels like flexing his muscles a bit? Obviously if your cat takes great joy in disturbing the peace, picking fights with any other cat that happens by, then he's an ideal candidate for assuming the name of this vengeful god.

MERCURY (Mer'-Kyoo-Ree; Male; See Greek god HERMES): Identical in nearly every way to the Greek god, with one alarming addition. For some reason the Romans decided that their god Mercury should carry around a purse. Actually it's not as bad as it sounds. The purse was to symbolize the world of commerce since Mercury was the god of merchants, as well as of all the mystical stuff attributed to Hermes. If you had good reason for naming your cat then you'll have just as good a reason for naming him Mercury.

MINERVA (Min-Er'-Vah; Female. See Greek god ATHENE): Like her Greek parallel, Minerva was a goddess of war, and another virgin as well. She was considered highly intelligent and because of this she was thought of as the ruler of music, the written word, arts and craftsmanship, and overall wisdom. Like the Greek Athene, owls were considered sacred to Minerva, representing wisdom. She was a very wise warrior, respected by the Roman Legions. Her celebration was held concurrently with the five day festivities to Mars, always during the Spring Equinox. She was also the guardian of women's rights, just like her Greek "sister", so here is another appropriate name for your liberated cat.

NEPTUNE (Nep'-Toon; Male. See Greek god POSEIDON): One good thing about knowing the dates on which the gods were celebrated with festivals and honors is that you can celebrate your cat's birthday on these days, if you don't happen to know their birthday already. Neptune was honored on July 23 during a holiday called, what else? The Neptunalia. At first the Romans paid little attention to him, calling on him mostly to protect against drought. They didn't see much reason for calling upon him for anything else since early in the development of Roman society, seafaring matters were of little concern. However, surrounded by such maritime powers as Carthage and Phoenicia, it didn't take long for them to realize that they needed a naval force and a mighty one. Neptune was quickly adopted as their commanding deity and supreme god of the seas. By acknowledging this god, the Romans believed they were under divine protection, legitimizing all they conquered for their own. As with Poseidon, giving a cat the name Neptune works well if he happens to be fond of baths or water in general.

PICUS (Pie'-Cuss; Male) His name means 'woodpecker.' He was a woodpecker. But, Picus and his fellow woodpeckers were considered sacred to Mars. Besides being favored by the god of war, Picus was also a god of agriculture and a bird of augury. Indeed, Picus played a crucial role in the earliest days of Roman development for it was he who brought food to the wolf-suckled babes Romulus and Remus, who both grew up to become the founders of Rome. This is why Mars holds this humble and generous woodpecker in such high esteem. See, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Mars, taken from him when they were mere infants and left to die along the banks of the river Tiber. For his vigilance, Picus was honored and respected by Mars. You really have to use your imagination on this one, but I can see naming a helpful and selflessly generous kitty after this humble but immeasurably important god and friend to Mars.

PLUTO (Ploo'-Toh, Male. See Greek god HADES): This name almost didn't find its way into this book. I mean, who's going to name their cat Pluto, which to most people is reminiscent of that animated dog? The nice people at Disney seem to have made it their own, but if you ask me, that raises more questions than it answers. Why would a family entertainment studio, known for its sweet children's cartoons, deliberately name one of their more popular characters after the god of death and the underworld? True, Pluto was also the god of riches, but that doesn't make sense either. Sure, the cartoon studio is wealthy, but isn't it odd the only character with a mythological name glorifies the god of shadows? Oh well, fat chance anyone is going to name their cat Pluto. If your cat fits this dark personality, call him the Greek Hades instead. Hell, even the Romans didn't like Pluto, so why should anyone else?

PROSERPINA (Prahs-Er-Pee'-Nah, Female. See Greek goddess PERSEPHONE): Since the Roman Proserpina is related to the Greek goddess Persephone, you've probably already guessed that she was none other than the Underworld consort to Pluto just as Persephone was to Hades. You're right. Personally I think Proserpina is one of the prettiest in the whole book, so don't let her reputation keep you from naming your sweetheart cat after this goddess of the seasons, primarily; goddess of the Underworld only begrudgingly.

SATURN (Sa'-Tern; Male. See Greek god CRONUS): Some cats like to party. Of course, they party a bit differently than we do, but most cats are known to let go every so often. To the Romans, Saturn was, among other things, Old Man Time, Granddaddy of the gods, giver of plenitude, and a god that knew how to have a good time. His famous festival was called the Saturnalia. Beginning on December 17, right around the time of the Winter Solstice, this celebration went on for 12 days. During this wild holiday, all rules were suspended. Slaves were free and masters were slaves. There was eating and drinking and licentious behavior as was to be expected from the Romans. Believe it or not, given the winter season, many Christmas traditions we cherish today originated during this Roman madness. The distribution of candies and treats, the exchange of presents, giving toys to children, even the 12 days of Christmas got its start here, though many, many years later of course. All things considered, perhaps the best reason to give your cat this name is if he's one to keep a close and silent watch over the passage of time as if he were an official caretaker. Then again, if he's a real (excuss the pun) party animal, name him after this prosperous god especially is you plan to observe his birthday around Christmas time.

SILVANUS (Sill-Vay'-Nuhs; Male): Some sources identify this Roman god of the wildness with the Greek god PAN, but most accounts are in conflict. There are several similarities however. Silvanus loved the outdoors. In fact, he'd rather be in the forests than just about anywhere else. One reason for this attraction to dark overgrown wilderness was his love of scaring unsuspecting travelers. To the Romans he was more or less a symbol of the unknown dangers that the dense unexplored hinterlands contained. All I've got to say is that cats will often take delight in surprising who ever come along a little too close to their hiding place. By studying my cat closely, I am convinced that she enjoys startling those inconsiderate people who refuse to respect another creatures abode, namely hers. Attacking their ankles and legs when they tread too close to her sanctuary gives her a smug look of satisfaction that I'm sure Silvanus would relate to.

VENUS (Vee'-Nuhs; Female. See Greek goddess APHRODITE): As we've seen, the Roman's had thought of their gods as something close to personifications of abstract ideas or qualities. To the Greeks, the gods reflected the deep and eternal follies of human nature. For example, the Greeks revered Aphrodite as the absolute force within the universe that caused humanity to succumb to loving or lustful passions and desires. But to the Romans, after changing her name to Venus, she became little more than a figure of superstition. While Venus still ruled love and passion, she was rather aloof and cold. Her temples in Rome were centers of sexual acts, but more on the level of wanton prostitution than the exalted expression of sacred sexuality as practiced by the Greeks. All the same, Venus is a name that conjures up true beauty, grace, and love in all its wonderful manifestations. Since there are many beautiful kitties around with an affinity toward the night sky, naming her after that brilliant star-like object, the planet named for the goddess Venus, will no doubt please her immensely.

VESTA (Veh'-Stah, Female): This fire goddess might remind you of the Greek HESTIA since they both emphasized the stabilizing influence of a well tended fire. But unlike the Greek goddess, Vesta not only kept watch over the domestic fires of the Roman citizens, she also personified the sacred flame of Rome. Perpetually burning in a temple near the Forum, the ever blazing fire was carefully tended to by young women chosen for the task of maintaining the flame. These "Vestal Virgins" were to remain within the confines of the temple for a period of thirty years, all the while remaining chaste. Their job was considered most important since it was believed that should the flame go out, the fall of Rome was imminent. So if you're cat takes special pride in keeping the household flame warm and glowing (both literally and metaphorically) her thoughtful concern more than likely is coming from the influence of Vesta herself. Her festival (called the Vestalia) was observed on June 7.

VICTORIA(Vic-Tor'-Ee-Ah; Female. See Greek goddess NIKE): There wasn't much to say about Nike and there's even less to say about this minor Roman knock-off. As you might suspect, Victoria was the goddess of (surprise!) victory. Is your cat a winner? Well then here's your name.

VULCAN (Vul'-Kan; Male. See Greek god HEPHAESTUS): There are a few things about Vulcan that are marginally amusing. For starters, he looked a little strange. He wore a kind of threadbare goatee, an embarrassingly short tunic, and a ridiculous hat. Being the god of volcanoes and fire, he could get away with his appearance. Apparently he was one mean god. To appease him, he was given three festivals and all in the month of August. They were: 17th - the Portunalia; 23rd - the Vulcanalia; and 27th - the Volturnalia. He was said to be extremely volatile, but he could be fair. Some say he was an excellent craftsman and was especially adept at fashioning exquisite jewelry. Others say he couldn't fashion anything other than thunderbolts. Whatever the case, he was moody and temperamental. Sound like your cat? If so Vulcan might suit him in a way no other name could.

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