Portrait illustration of a philosophical cat wearing a suit.
Illustration by Julia Reddell, George Fox University
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Portrait illustration of a philosophical cat wearing a suit.
Illustration by Julia Reddell, George Fox University

Naming your pet something ridiculous is a time-honored tradition, especially if you’re a French Philosopher.

Every other week, a trending post on a social media site discusses some outrageous or hilarious name that someone has given to their cat. Cat names tend to easily find homes in our hearts for both their hilarity and endearing natures — even if the pet’s name is something silly like “Shoe.”

Surprisingly, this whimsical practice is valued by famous philosophers as well. Despite being involved in what is considered to be a rather serious subject, philosophers are particularly fond of giving their cats silly, unique names that makes others laugh. Oddly enough, it also seems that the light-hearted names they choose always align with their passions and chosen fields of philosophy in some way.

Albert Camus and Cigarette

Albert Camus, one of the most well-known figures of absurdist philosophy, is said to have given his cat the name “Cigarette.” Absurdism is a quite complex field, but at its core, it explores a certain outlook on the meaning of life. Generally speaking, absurdism can be defined as the search for meaning in a universe that inherently lacks meaning, and this philosophy influenced Camus significantly. According to him, there was something absurd about the human drive to find meaning within what he saw to be a purely meaningless existence.

Given Camus’ philosophy, it is not especially surprising that he settled on a less mainstream cat name, landing upon Cigarette as the perfect option. All fans of Camus know that he was an avid lover of smoking. Therefore, it makes sense that he would name his cat after the deadly addiction, as such would link together two things he loved — even if the correspondence seems rather dark. Naming a cat after a form of a drug may seem tasteless to some, but to an absurdist who believes in a meaningless world, there is no obvious reason to avoid naming a cat after a dedicated habit. To some, the name may even be considered an honor.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Nothing

Like Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre notably selected a name that was related to his chosen field of study. Sartre is known mostly for his existentialist outlook on life, which is funnily enough related to Camus’ absurdism; in fact, it is widely accepted that absurdist philosophy sprouted from the roots of existentialismExistentialism itself focuses on the lack of meaning in life and posits that each human is the sole agent responsible for giving their life meaning. One of Sartre’s most known works is titled “Being and Nothingness,” and it is therefore easy to see why Sartre named his cat “Nothing.” Ironically, Nothing actually gave meaning to Sartre’s life and might be the agent responsible for Sartre finding meaning in his own life. As any pet owner will know, the relationship between a pet and its owner is incredibly moving.

Michel Foucault and Insanity

Another philosopher who had a rather peculiar cat name was the famous French philosopher Michel Foucault. The beloved cat of Foucault received the name “Insanity.” It is funny to consider that Foucault may have selected this name because philosophy — with its twists, turns and rigorous logical structures — is known to drive people insane.

However, it is more likely that Foucault chose the name in correlation with one of his most well-known works, a book titled “Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason” (1961). In this work, Foucault essentially explored the evolution of insanity from multiple perspectives, including psychological and historical ones. Foucault frequented contemplated the roles of power and authority in society, and the impacts of these institutions on societal inhabitants. Fond of studying the mind and what drives it to the brink of sanity, it makes perfect sense that Foucault’s first choice for a cat name would be Insanity.

Jacques Derrida and Logos

Finally, Jacques Derrida named his cat “Logos” in an obvious reflection of his beliefs and approaches. In philosophy, the word “logos” means reason or logic. Derrida is most known for his work with deconstruction, which studies the relationship between literature and its meaning through a logical or reason-based approach. Hence, we get Derrida’s strange choice of a name for his cat.

Funnily enough, all the mentioned philosophers are of French origin. Perhaps the French have a knack for contributing to silly cat names, or maybe philosophy simply compels students to find points of light and simplicity in their lives. Nevertheless, philosophers definitely have a talent for giving their cats silly, whimsical names that don’t necessarily pertain to the deep nature of philosophy. Instead, they opt to give names that express passion and dedication — and a little bit of fun.

Maybe as a society, we can learn a lesson from these names and find moments of fun and meaning in other ordinary facets of life. Or, we can just continue to name cats silly things like Flip Flop, which are just as fun and bound to bring about a few smiles.

Writer Profile

Shawna Smith

University of Phoenix
English

Shawna Smith is an English major with a passion for philosophy, poetry, ‘90s music and, of course, literary analysis.

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