The Naming of Cats

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"The Naming of Cats" is a poem in T. S. Eliot's poetry book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and its stage adaptation, Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular musical Cats. It describes to humans how cats get their names. The poem has also been quoted in other films, notably Logan's Run, when Logan meets the old man outside the dome city.

The poem[edit]

The poem uses a short rhythmic dialogue to describe how cats get or choose their names. It also shows how cats are also mysterious and devious, e.g., with the line "The name that no human research can discover—but THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

The Naming of Cats (Excerpt)

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James, Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,

T. S. Eliot, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

The Musical[edit]

In Cats, "The Naming of Cats" is the second song of the musical. The Naming of Cats is a slow, eerie song which breaks the fourth wall, acknowledging the audience and explaining to them how cats are given their names, all through unison, quietly whispering, but also fiercely hissing, in rhythmic dialogue from the full company.

The Movie[edit]

In the 1976 movie "Logan's Run" actor Peter Ustinov recites a shortened version of the poem.


  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T. S. Eliot, Harcourt, 1982, ISBN 0-15-168656-4
  • A Cat's Diary: How the Broadway Production of Cats was born, Stephen Hanan, Smith & Kraus, 2002, ISBN 1-57525-281-3