. . . from A to Z
Annabelle’s temporary name, until she got settled with the real one, was Funny Face. Here she is in a perfect photo op, doubling her resemblance to a badger.
She was an unusually assertive girl, and had trouble settling in with the mischief. Normally baby rats are instantly absorbed in the group. The formal explanation is that rats younger than 6 or 7 weeks don’t trigger stranger-hostility in adult rats. But Annabelle had a mind of her own.
I gave the rats the bag from a bakery-shop cookie. After they had dealt with the crumbs, Booboo found another use for the bag.
Beatrice was always called Booboo. I had to buy her because she had only half a tail, probably due to some accident in infancy. But neither the tail nor her later pudginess affected her agility in the least. Booboo was a Rex, with lovely soft curly fur; I called her my half-rex because of her half-long tail. She grew to be a big squishy girl, as plump and soft as Winnie though without her motherly nature.
Cinnamon was adopted after being abandoned by her former owners. She had been at the animal shelter for several weeks when Miranda and Harpo died, so what choice did I have? In the beginning she got into a couple of serious tussles with Nelly—even a bit of bloodshed, so rare for female rats—but they quickly became the best of friends. Mostly. Cinnamon was our homemaker, the one who’d get to work each week, moving up the new batch of shredded paper and fabric strips to make their nest. Booboo later took over this chore.
DeeDee’s official name was Donatella, though even the vet’s records have her as DeeDee. She was named after a friend’s much-loved cat. She picked up where Rocky left off, thoroughly exploring the inside of the walls.
Nelly, with Harpo in the background.
Clockwise from left: Nelly, baby Xena and Franny. Nelly liked the camera!
The rats’ preferred sleeping areas was and is the topmost hammock-shelf. The space is a cozy 5” high—less when a cat is resting on top of the cage.
Franny’s official name was Francesca, but I never used it. Her lasting contribution to the mischief was her introduction of social grooming: “Squeak all you like, you will get clean!”
Grace showed up at the pet store just when I thought I was moving over to an all-male mischief for a while. Usually I pick rats for their personalities. But this one looked so sweet—like a little grey mouse—that I had to buy her. The name followed naturally. She was supposed to be a friend for Annabelle, who was the liveliest of the rats in spite of being the oldest. But she preferred to stay quietly in the nest with Jock and Yancey.
As she grew up she became more assertive—and also picked up the epithet Greedy Grace. She wasn’t fat, but she did like her food. She followed Deedee into the walls, and for a while had a very comfortable nest.
Harpo (below) was the first boy in the family. There were three brothers at the animal shelter, so naturally I named them Groucho, Chico and Harpo. Groucho died and Chico was adoped, so that left Harpo month by month by himself. He was neutered so he could live amicably with the girls. When he joined the mischief he had to learn all over again how to defend his food. When you have roommates, your stash of sunflower seeds may not be there when you come back for it.
Isabelle was Zuzu’s “official” name, as Booboo’s official name was Beatrice, but we never used it. Zuzu (above) was my changeling. She may have looked like a dumbo rat, but she was really the world’s tiniest ferret. She was nimble and agile, with a grip like a fly, whether she was venturing into the sleeping bag—15 ft from the cage in one direction—or chimney-climbing down into her personal space—1½ inches between wall and file cabinet, with an overhang at the top.
Jock was the Rat Formerly Known as Mini-Me. He started out as the runt of a too-young litter. At 4 weeks he was just 24 grams—less than an ounce. Aside from that, he looked exactly like Susanna, 20 times his size. Bit by bit he grew to be Wee Jock—short, of course, for “Not So Wee As He Used To Be But Smaller Than He Will Be Jock”—and finally settled into being Middle-Sized Jock. Because he was so tiny, he was allowed to live with the rest of the mischief for a week or two; later he had to go live in bachelor splendor until he was big enough to get neutered.
Katie was not with us long—only a few months. So she never got photographed. She was a brown-and-white hoodie, nothing like her agouti sister Ursula.
Leela on the left, Nyssa on the right. Notice the coincidental “L” pattern on Leela’s back? Nyssa had a tiny star on her forehead, and a band of dark fur around the base of her tail.
Leela (bottom) and Nyssa (top) as two-ounce babies.
Leela and her sister Nyssa began as the Little Noses. That was all I usually saw, peering out of the igloo at the bottom of their cage. When they finally told me their names, Leela came first in the alphabet because her little nose always poked out before Nyssa’s.
Similar but not identical, they could never get away with “It wasn’t me! It was my sister! Can’t you tell us apart?”
Later on, they grew . . . and grew . . . and grew. Leela topped off at 1 pound 4 ounces, Nyssa—always a little smaller—1 pound 3 ounces.
Laverne was one-third of my only rat trio. Inevitably they got named Patty, Maxene and Laverne.
Miranda was my first rat—the Grande Dame of them all, and the only one to make it to age three. She started the tradition of making sure the cats understood who was in charge. When this picture was taken she was very, very old. She had three surgeries but still enjoyed life until very near the end: she slept in a big pile with her cagemates, joined in squabbles at the treat bowl, even made her way from top to bottom of the Big Cage.
Malcolm was adopted and came pre-named. I only fixed the spelling. He was a year old when he moved in, but always had a youthful face. The shape of his hood made it look as if the rat factory goofed and didn’t line up the material properly. Malcolm followed Xena to the sleeping bag, and made it his own.
Maxene was one of the three sisters: Patty, Maxene and Laverne. Early in life she was very skittish. But when she developed medical problems she became much more affectionate—if only because she knew who was in charge of the NutriCal.
Nyssa and Leela came as a package. Jointly they were the Little Noses. It always seemed as if Leela was the more dominant sister—but it was Nyssa who decided when a new rat would be allowed to sleep in the pile with the others. The cage was her domain.
Orpik was the result of poring over the Official Greenlandic Names list. I was down to the last few letters in the alphabet; even Q had been used. Elsewhere her name might be spelled Uqpik, Oĸpik or possibly ᐅᖅᐱᒃ. That last form is in the dictionary as an Arctic willow. Not to be confused with Ukpik-with-a-k, which is a white owl.
Penelope was another who died young. She was my first PEW girl—leading to her name. Here she is getting ready to step on Yancey’s nose. It is probably impossible to photograph a PEW without making it look as if they swallowed a light bulb.
Patty was Maxene and Laverne’s sister. While Laverne and Maxene died within a day of each other, Patty stayed around for several more months.
Q is for Qablooney. By the time she came along, I was on the difficult letters of the alphabet. I thought of making up something like Quviana, but decided it was too Greenlandic. Instead I let her name herself.
Rocky when she was the world’s tiniest rat.
Rocky was another in the line of rats who had two names; her “official” name was Raquel. She was one of a litter of eighteen whose mother “dried up” early, so the babies went out for sale younger than usual. She weighed only one ounce, and was supplemented with human baby food and formula until the day she turned up her wee nose and said “I’m not a baby, you know!” Later she became an explorer, venturing into the water-heater cupboard and from there into the spaces within the walls and above the ceiling.
Susanna (left) and Thomasina (right) as babies. Even then, Susanna was a little bigger than her sister. They picked up their names faster than almost anyone: because they came right after Rocky, I knew they had to be S and T.
Susanna got to be a big girl, close to a pound. Like Zuzu before her, she chose not to read the section in The Book about dumbos’ personality traits. Instead, she was the most venturesome and inquisitive of the rats—and the one most likely to grow into a cat-terrorizer. For a time, she and Annabelle seemed to be well on their way to demolishing the handy secluded area behind the Big Aquarium on its enclosed stand.
Thomasina, Susanna’s sister, was diabetic. I named her Thomasina to avoid calling her Thumbelina. Over time her size difference with Susanna got bigger and bigger. Then I started noticing her water intake, smelled her acetone breath . . . and had her blood sugar tested. More tests followed: she turned out to be an “insulin-compensating diabetic”. Call it Type X. It would not help to give her insulin because she was already making plenty—but her diabetes was there from the beginning instead of coming on in portly middle age.
In general it was Teddy who knew his way around the house and could always get back to the cage, no matter where he was. But Annabelle had to help him find his way back along the ratwalk.
Teddy may have been Annabelle’s cousin, or possibly half-brother. They shared a tank at the pet store, but she looked a week or two older. Teddy in fact was so tiny that for 24 hours after I brought him home, I thought he was a girl.
This turned out not to be the case. It’s a good thing I turned him over to see whether he was really a self instead of the more common Berkshire (white underneath).
He immediately got a cage of his own—and, being the only boy among four girls, was naturally named Teddy. Later he got neutered so he could live with the girls. That, at least, was the idea. Nobody objected to Teddy visiting, but he was not encouraged to sleep on the top-floor hammock-shelf. Instead he went off to the bedroom closet—that’s the human bedroom, not the rat bedroom—and made himself a comfortable nest. Remembering little Rocky, I didn’t gamble that he would always go to the cage when he was hungry or thirsty. He got his own micro-habitat. And, after a month or so, Nyssa decided he could come sleep with everyone else.
Teddy eventually grew into a big, squishy, squashy boy. He didn’t weigh as much as Leela or Nyssa—nobody ever could—but it was nice comfortable couch-potato fat.
Ursula was Katie’s sister, or at least her early cagemate. But her life took a different—and longer—course. Like Winnie and Grace before her, she was an agouti, the classic wild-rat coloring. But I never had the least trouble telling her and Grace apart.
Verity grew up to be Very Large Verity. Leela and Nyssa were big girls; Verity topped them easily, at almost a pound and a half. Eventually her heart gave out.
Winnie, formally Winifred, was the second rat I got, but the first to die. She was a big agouti girl, always plump and squashy. But she had an early history of tumors, and died when she was less than two years old.
Xena, here a mature two-year-old, looks worried at having the babies, Susanna and Thomasina, crawling all over her. Would she have been more worried—or less—if she had known that she would outlive Thomasina by three days?
Xena in a classic scene from The Egg and I.
Xena stood up for herself when she was young, hence the name. She grew into a big strong girl, matching her namesake. I thought Zuzu looked like a ferret . . . until I saw Xena reaching for a hard-boiled egg. Note the position of her feet. Her tail was probably working hard too!
Yancey was adopted on the spur of the moment. On the very day Middle-Sized Jock was scheduled for neutering, I stopped by the pet store and found a little boy rat up for adoption. For the past few weeks he’d been hustled about, from mass breeder to distributor to Big Chain Pet Store to young owner whose parents wouldn’t let her keep him to hastily-scavenged bird cage and “Free To A Good Home” in yet another store. Well, I couldn’t risk him going to a not-so-good home, so into the transport carrier he went.
He was very frightened and shy, but also very affectionate once you did get him hauled out of the cage. His original name was Turbo. I’d had too many T’s already, so he ended up as Yancey. The name grew out of “Youngest One”. He was the only one of my rats to like raisins. This made Granola Time easy, because I never had to decide between buying raisinless granola—which I don’t like as much—or taking the time to pick out the raisins before giving the rats their portion.
Zipporah—Zippy for short—brought the original alphabet to an end, joining the family in late 2011. It’s pure coincidence that Z was the last letter to be used. Xena and Yancey were well in the past; in fact X-for-Xena predated A-for-Annabelle by several years.