When I was in college, my boyfriend and I got a cat. The cat was large and orange or brown (memory is fuzzy) and around 7 years old. He had been the subject of a “free to good home” ad in the local paper. He was the wife’s cat and the husband didn’t want him any more.1 The wife sadly gave him up. We took him home, named him Siddhartha, and hung around while he hid under the bed for days. He was miserable and, by association, we were miserable with this poor cat who didn’t want to be away from the only person he’d ever loved. We called the wife and she took him back. I hope she and the cat at least lived happily ever after.
Then we got kittens instead. Like all good Iowa kittens, they were free and came from a farm. We went out there and saw a litter of kittens running around in the sunshine with their mom who had been a stray and apparently thought this particular farm in Iowa was a good place to have her kittens. I liked one of the kittens and I remember my boyfriend saying, “What about that one?” about another, so we took them both.
We took them home, named them Nietzsche and Kierkegaard2 (Kierkegaard, for the record, was “What about that one?”), and lived happily ever after. Well, for a while.
That boyfriend and I broke up, as college boyfriends and I were wont to do. I had other boyfriends and moved to different cities, eventually settling into an apartment with a friend in Bucktown where it was still slightly edgy.
At that apartment, things went terribly wrong. Nietzsche, shortly after declaring “God is dead,” declared her intense loathing of Kierkegaard. All of a sudden, her litter mate and best friend was her mortal enemy. She terrorized Kierkegaard who holed up in my (allergic) roommate’s bedroom. I called veterinarians. I called animal behavior hotlines. Everybody said shit like “cats will be cats” and nothing helped and no, they never got over it.
So it came to be that I chose Kierkegaard, either because she was the innocent victim or because she was my favorite, and Nietzsche went to live with my parents, who lived nearby and had been without an animal since their dog died. From then on, Kierkegaard was my constant, as they say. She was, and I shit you not, my soul mate. She was with me through moves, law school, a judicial clerkship, marriage, a stint at trying to save the world through public defending, divorce, ill-advisedly shacking up with a younger man, moving across the country, being unemployed, being underemployed, buying a little house in the ‘hood, finding a good job, and eventually just when you thought I’d never do it, being pregnant.
As it turned out, we were going to have a boy. Our elaborate (not really) name calculus gave me naming rights for a boy. (We came to an agreement with the main proposition being that a boy would get Ben’s last name and I could pick the first name and a girl would get my last name and he could pick the first name — I love the idea of hyphenating but my name is way too difficult.) The thing is, dudes, boy names are hard. At least I think they are, especially when you want something different but not so different your kid is going to get his ass kicked over it.
We didn’t have any family names we wanted to pass on (you don’t really see kids named Vytautas today and the rest are too popular). Or did we? What about my soul mate, the cat? It’s not like we were going to name our kid Kierkegaard, but if Kierkegaard was named after Soren Kierkegaard, we could name our kid Soren because that’s kind of naming our kid after the cat. And even better, Soren is like my favorite name, ever, and it doesn’t remind me of anybody but an existential philosopher and my cat. That’s it. Done!3
I don’t recall it being very hard to convince Ben to agree to the name and, although I didn’t announce it to the internet until Soren was born, we told everybody in real life and nobody had a bad word to say about it. This must mean the name is awesome or I’m a huge bitch and nobody wanted to argue about it — either/or.
I didn’t know this at the time, but on the day Soren was born, Kierkegaard, who was 18, had just one month and three days left. I’ll always miss her. But it’s kind of cool that she’s part of my son’s story even though he won’t remember her.
1. For real, if you ever have a significant other who “makes you” (that’s in quotes because it would be stupid for me to put a note in a note, which I’m tempted to do, to point out that your significant other cannot and should not ever “make you” do anything, which, duh, but sometimes people are somehow unaware of this) get rid of your animal friend, you might want to DTMF, and by DTMF I mean dump the mother fucker.
2. I believe I ranked high on the animal-naming-assholery scale for a while. Animals I’ve acquired since Nietzsche and Kierkegaard have been named, in chronological order, Valkyrie, Lilly (came with the name), Xochitl, Jupiter, Peep, Coltrane, Sadie, and Peaches. FYI, every dog is named Sadie.
3. I did have a tiny existential crisis regarding whether it’s okay to give a kid a Danish name when you’re not Danish and whether it’s okay to say Soren instead of Søren because that ø is totally bad ass but you’re kind of setting your kid up for a life of misery when his name requires a special letter even I have to copy and paste from the internet because I don’t know how to keyboard it.