Why are Maine Coons called Maine Coons?

The story goes that Maine Coons are called Maine Coons because they are named after the US state of Maine on the east coast and after an English sea captain, Captain Charles Coon who is a legend in the area of Biddeford Pool, Maine. Now, I have to confess that although I have made a confident statement on the origin of the name I am not confident at all. My best research did not reveal “facts” on the name which surprises me. However, I think that this theory is probably the best or most likely. Although the name “Captain Coon” does seen awfully convenient and may be an invention by cat breeders running early cat clubs. This possible invention may have arisen to mask out a fancyful myth that the Maine Cooon was a cross between a raccoon and a cat! This myth seems to be alive and well which surprises me greatly.

….that the cats were natural hybrids between cats and raccoons. This is genetically impossible. However, impressionable (or merely stupid) individuals have attempted to mate cats with raccoons. One woman who tried this reported ended up with “an almighty scrap and a pile of fur” when the two animals fought. – Sarah Hartwell, owner of the messybeast.com website and a genetics expert.

Early Maine Cat
“Maine Cat” – winner of America’s first cat show in 1895. Picture in public domain.
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Although there are a dozen versions of the origins of the Maine Coon cat (some very fanciful), cautiously I’d argue that the most likely is that they come from domestic cats imported into America from England crossbreeding with long-haired ship’s cats such as owned by Captain Coon. Originally and for many years Maine Coons were farm cats.

They were called “Maine Cats” as late as the mid 1960s by the Central Maine Cat Club. The club was created by Alta Smith and Ruby Dyer both of whom lived in Showhegan, Maine. By 1968 the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA) has been formed. Sometime in the late 1960s the name “Maine Coon” seems to have taken hold. They probably sat around a table, looked at the history of this cat which is heavily linked to the state of Maine and noticed the story of Captain Charles Coon (or made it up) and come up with the name.

Dr Morris in his book Cat World contradicts this assessment by writing that the Maine Coon Cat Club was in existence in 1953. I am not sure about that. As you can see the history of the early days are murky. Anyway back to Captain Coon.

Captain Coon “owned and operated a trading vessel in the early days of the colonies and was exceedingly fond of cats”. He traded up and down the New England coast which includes the beautiful state of Maine. He had a “feline army” on board! These included some long-haired cats: Persians and Angoras which were popular in England at the time. These were the primary cat breeds of the time.

It is claimed that when the good captain came ashore to do business or relax some of his cats came with him (or escaped his ship perhaps?) and it is these long-haired unsterilised cats who crossbred with the local domestic cats to create “one of Coon’s cats”. They stood out which encouraged informal breeding by the local residents. And thus these large, handsome long-haired cats were picked up by farmers as working barn cats. Later they were picked up by breeders and refined through selective breeding into pedigree show cats. Today they are perhaps the world’s most popular cat breed. Although watch out for health issues.

The winner of the first cat show in America in 1895 was a brown tabby Maine Coon. At that time, as mentioned, they were called “Maine Cats”.

I am indebted to Marilis Hornidge the author of The Yankee Cat.

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