Dwarf cats and the origin of their names with first-hand stories

The dwarf cat and the origin of the breed names throws up some interesting stories if you are into the cat fancy. The dwarf cat has some interesting breed names. Dwarf cats are unusual and popular. People are interested in them. However, what is equally unusual and fascinating are the names of the various dwarf breeds and, more particularly, how these interesting names came about. Here are the stories about how they were created. Normally the person who developed the breed also created the name.

Kinkalow kitten
Kinkalow kitten. Photo: Pinterest and in the public domain.
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Genetta: This is a cat created and named by Shannon Kiley of Pawstruk Cattery in 2006. Genettas are being registered as an experimental breed with The International cat Association (TICA).

Shannon came up with the name “Genetta” as the breed is “being modeled after the African Genet and part of the scientific name for a genet is ‘genetta’. So I thought that would be very fitting and unique.” (Shannon Kiley)

The African Genet is catlike in appearance and habit but not a cat. It has a longish body and widely spaced black spots. It is a member of the family Viverridae, which includes mongooses.

To achieve the look Shannon developed the Genetta using breeds such as Munchkins, Bengals, Savannahs, DSH, and Oriental Shorthairs.

Skookum: This dwarf cat breed was developed Roy Galusha through the intentional breeding of the Munchkin to the LaPerm.

Skookum. Photo: Pinterest.

When I asked him how he arrived at the name for this dwarf cat breed he gave this full and interesting answer, which is reproduced here with his permission:

“I can tell you the answer on the Skookum, since we created the breed. When the breed was first started (our first accidental cross), we (not just us, several people in our circle who knew about them), jokingly referred to them as LaMerms (taking the M from Munchkin and replacing the P in the LaPerm.) When we sought recognition as a breed, we wanted to find a good descriptor of the breed, and considered the name “Poco Chino” which means short and curly in Spanish.

However, someone in UFO who knew Spanish pointed out that that also means “Little Chinese”, so we scrapped that. After doing a lot of talking and brainstorming, we decided to give it a Native American name. My wife is part Cherokee, so we researched Cherokee names; however, the descriptor names did not have a good flow. We then decided to go with a local North West Native American name (since we were living in Washington State). We looked at quite a few names, and researched the meanings.

A local Native American word that comes from the Chinook language and was part of the Chinook Trade Language was Skookum (pronounced Skoo Kum). The word Skookum means mighty, powerful or great. It is also used to signify good health or good spirits. If someone really likes something, they might refer to it as being really skookum (“Boy that apple pie is skookum”) or if you really like a horse (“that is one skookum horse). So we figured that was the perfect name for the breed. Certain TICA officials used the name to object to it being accepted as a breed claiming that the word Skookum means scary monster such as a big foot. This is partially correct in the fact that the spelling Skookum is also used to describe Big Foot, the pronunciation is completely different.”

Skookum. Photo in public domain.

RELATED: Dwarf cats and Miniature Cats – this provides a full list of the dwarf breeds.

Below is the explanation from Tony Johnson, Cultural Committee Chair for the Chinook Tribe.

“As per our conversation this morning, the Chinuk Wawa language has two words differing only by their stress that have been popularly written as “skookum.” We write these two words the same, except for their stress: “sku’kum” for something that is strong, tough, brave or impressive, and “skuku’m” for something scary or a “monster.” Typically, English speakers stress the first syllable of a word, and your spelling (which is typical historically) reflects that. The word “skookum” for your use is both not “demonic,” and is in fact appropriate. Further discussion of the word “skuku’m seems unnecessary in that it is not the term you are using.

As I noted, the word you are using also can be used in a context to mean something like English “healthy.” In this case it basically means your (body is) “strong.” I hope this helps you, and I can see where this confusion would come from. The confusion is entirely based on the problematic nature of people writing Native words and then other people reading them who have never heard actual pronunciation. In our language you could never confuse these two words or their associated meanings.”

hayu masi (many thanks),Tony A. JohnsonCulture committee ChairChinook Indian Tribe / Chinook Nation


Picture: Skookum bred by Roy Galusha

The Skookum has also been referred to as the Shirley Temple cat, because it is short and curly. That was a marketing strategy when Cat Fancy first allowed us to advertise them. We came up with that slogan as the best descriptor of the cat. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.”

I can’t add a thing to that! Great answer.

Napoleon: (now called ‘Minuet’) This little dwarf cat was developed by the intentional mating of the Munchkin to the Persian or exotic shorthair, by Joe Smith. Napoleons are currently registered as Experimental with TICA but recognized as a breed with TDCA.

I confess that I have yet to get an answer to my enquiries about this name. However, a bit of rational and logical thought leads me to this conclusion. This cat is a dwarf cat which is short of stature. Napoleon Bonaparte (the French general during the French Revolution) was short of stature by today’s standards (5 feet 6 inches). Also, most of the napoleons that I have seen are white and Napoleon Bonaparte rode a white horse (is there a connection there?). There probably is no connection there and the name simply originated from the short stocky compact profile of this dwarf cat which mirrored Napoleon Bonaparte.

Kinkalow: The kinkalow dwarf cat results from the mating of an American Curl to a Munchkin. Terri Harris developed this breed and says this about the name (link to full page on this breed):

The Kinkalow name was decided on while I was at Kinkos getting some copies make. The Kinkalow has kinky ears and low legs, Kink+low = Kinkalow”. I believe Kinko’s is a FedEx shop/office where copies can be made.

Dwelf: This is simple! It is a mixture of dwarf cat and elf. Being a Cross between Muchkin, Sphynx and American Curl. This dwarf cat is short, hairless and ears that curl back at the tips.

Munchkin: In 1983 music teacher Sandra Hochenedel discovered two cats hiding under a vehicle. She rescued them; both had short, stubby legs. She called them Munchkins after the little people in The Wizard of Oz. This is the founding dwarf cat.

Bambino: Stephanie and Pat Osborne of the Holy Moly cattery organised this dwarf cat breed. As Pat is of Italian extraction and as the cat keeps its kitten like appearance and character throughout its life they named it “Bambino”.

Lambkin: A straight dictionary definition, I think, provides the answer. Lambkin means “very young lamb”. Lambkin cats are a new dwarf cat breed that comes from the cross of a Munchkin and Selkirk Rex to produce curly haired kittens, just like a little lamb.

Knook: A Knook is a type of immortal being or fairy in the work of L.Frank Baum. Knooks are the guardians over the animals. They had a crooked appearance. (source: Wikipedia). I confess I research on the name of this dwarf cat breed produced nothing.

However, if a knook is a fairy that gives us a good clue. A fairy is delicate and small. A knook is a Kinkalow with a LaPerm/Skookam-type curled coat and that means this cat is going to be pretty delicate and small.

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2 thoughts on “Dwarf cats and the origin of their names with first-hand stories”

  1. Terrijean Harris

    The Napoleon named was changed, in TICA, to Minuet. Many in The International Cat Association disapproved of naming a cat breed after Napoleon, just like you wouldn’t name a breed Hitler.

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