• Last modified 237 days ago (Nov. 30, 2023)


What's in a name?

The impetuous little furball that now grudgingly allows me to occupy a portion of my residence finally has a name.

He’s now known not only as Cat, Stop Scratching the Furniture, and Don’t Claw My Leg but also as Zenger.

It’s an homage to John Peter Zenger, a pre-Revolutionary War journalist who was the first to successfully argue for truth as an absolute defense against libel.

In truth, the cat may not be a perfect namesake for Zenger, who like any good journalist respected truth above all else.

Zenger the cat clearly has learned — as some politicians have — the meaning of the word “no”: Stop doing whatever you’re doing until whoever says “no” isn’t watching anymore.

Zenger almost was named Stringer — a reference to newspaper correspondents who used to get paid by measuring the length of their columns of writing with string, which in a cat’s world has a much different purpose.

Informed of his name, Zenger again demonstrated his similarity to politicians, quickly darting to and fro, at seemingly supersonic speeds, sometimes heading into dark recesses, though not necessarily to meet secretly with others.

Rather, his haste seemed more reminiscent of a politician scurrying to delete private texts before an open records case could be filed against him.

Like most politicians, Zenger also has been known to occasionally bite the hand that feeds him, then try to soothe things over with slobbering purrings designed to make you feel as if you would be stronger together than you would if expressing your own opinions.

Zenger and Stringer weren’t the only names under consideration when my son’s family came as usual for Thanksgiving last week.

Nice as its members might be, a documentary crew that also visited for most of the week was a poor substitute for the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother whose chair at our Thanksgiving table was empty for the first time this year.

The documentarians tried to capture Zenger in the act a few times, but like the politicians he seems to emulate, they were unsuccessful.

The filmmakers had shot video of his arrival at the home a week earlier but wanted to re-create the event to get a different angle.

Out came Zenger’s portable kennel, and for the entirety of the time it was visible in the house, Zenger no longer was. Minutes after the kennel was put away, Zenger returned to the festivities, apparently abandoning whatever the cat equivalent of a private country club post-election party might be.

His first stop was at a fancy new litter box with an entry way on top to prevent litter from falling out onto the floor.

While a videographer tried to film him, he darted into the box and refused to come out as long as the camera was present. Even cats, it seems, have some sense of modesty and propriety.

My son’s family suggested several names, some of them homages to other members of our family. Otto and Ollie would have been namesakes for my grandfathers. Malarkey and Rip Snorter would have honored by father’s columns. Microfilm would have honored by mother’s work with the Record’s Memories page.

There were, of course, other journalistic references: Murrow, Cronkite, Woodward, Bernstein, Pulitzer, Tarbell, Sinclair, and others.

And there were references to Aug. 11: Raider, Warrant, even Cody and Mayfield. But I didn’t want to have unpleasant memories evoked every time I called my cat for the next dozen years or more.

Dog and Fido were off-the-wall offerings. Insider references included Pica (a journalistic unit of measure and the disorder of eating things that aren’t food), Pooka (go watch the movie “Harvey”), Minion (a type size larger than Agate, my previous cat’s name, and also the name of the typeface these words appear in). We even pondered Rosebud ( “Citizen Kane”), Spock (“Star Trek”), and a few others.

But when I received a note from a New York lawyer who now subscribes to the Record suggesting Zenger, a name I alone had previously thought of, it stuck.

Zenger may not always be a truthteller, but he’s completely committed to leaving no stone, string, or piece of paper unturned in his never-ending quest to learn what surprises might be lurking in areas rarely inspected by humans.

That endless vigilance of patrolling the world, looking for anything that might be just a tad off, and then squawking about it, as Pat Wick describes her menagerie as doing in a column adjoining this one, are traits as important to journalism as the truth that John Peter Zenger always sought to report.

And with that, Zenger has become our office cat — albeit one who telecommutes only from his office at home.

Like any good journalist, he likes to snuggle up to warm and fuzzy things but will instantly do battle with anything that threatens.

Sometimes his battles — like those of any journalist — might be over things that aren’t really serious threats. But as Pat’s column points out, it’s better to squawk needlessly than to neglect to squawk when true danger arrives.


Last modified Nov. 30, 2023