Why Are Tabby Cats Called Tabby Cats?

Tabby cats are called tabby cats because of their coat markings. It is not a reference to a cat breed but a coat. It is believed that the word “tabby” originates in the appearance of a type of silk sold in the Attabiyah or Attabiah district of Baghdad called ‘Atabi’.

This region was known for selling silks that had a striped appearance (a watered – waved – silk). It was exported to England in large quantities. Its appearance was compared to the coat markings of a cat which at that time (19th century?) was called the Striped Cat or Tiger Cat. The cat came to be known as the ‘Tabbi’ leading to the word ‘Tabby’. As mentioned it describes the coat not a breed of cat. Many cat breeds are allowed under breed standards to have tabby coats.

P.S. ‘Attabiyah’ is derived, as I understand it, from the Medieval Latin ‘attabi’, and later the French ‘tabis’ which describes a silk fabric with a lustrous wavy finish.

P.S. How tabby cats got their M marking.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Frances A Danna says:

    I love interesting facts like this one about tabby cats. ?

    • Michael Broad says:

      Me too. It is interesting that this snippet of cat history originates in the Middle East not too far from the area where the first domestic cats existed.

  2. Carol Brandt says:

    Good info for when I play on Jeopardy, LOL. No, seriously, I’ve always wondered about the word tabby.

  3. Dennis says:

    It’s surprising to find out that the origin of the name “tabby cat” came from the markings on their fur, and how it mimicked silk fabrics. I’m sure that anyone doing research writing about classifications of cats could consider this a unique fact about cats! This is certainly an interesting fact to share with any cat lover!

    • Michael Broad says:

      Hi Dennis, I’m afraid you cannot add links to comments unless they are relevant otherwise your comment simply becomes spam. I have therefore deleted the link but retained the comment.

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