I probably first came across the word kitty as a name, the shortened version of Catherine or Katherine – although it was probably in story books. There was Kitty Fisher in the nursery rhyme, and in another ‘I love little kitty, her fur is so warm’. ‘Any school friends with that name had it shortened to Cathy or Kathy. There very few contemporary Kathleens, they were mostly from a previous generation, like my mum’s cousin’s wife. None that I knew of were called Kitty, although my husband’s aunty was Kitty, and actually christened that.
Why am I thinking about Kitty? We’ve just bought something on-line and we paid for it with kitty… by which we mean our joint account, our kitty account. It got me wondering where the term kitty came from in this context. The first time I ever remember using it was when I as nineteen and went on a camping holiday in France with friends, and we had a kitty, each putting in so many francs each a day to buy food and other necessities – which obviously included wine! When we returned home we shared a flat so kitty maintained. Now whenever I go away with friends we nearly always have a kitty, but whether I suggest it using the k word, or others do, I have no idea.
So where did kitty as a joint pot of money come from? I’m intrigued. There are various other kitty’s which are nothing to do with money, for example the kittywake (or kittiwake) a small seagull; the ones we see round her are black legged kittywakes, as opposed to the Pacific red-legs – I imagine they look very striking! Then there is another winged thing, Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, the place where the Wright brothers first landed their aeroplane. The place of Kitty Hawk probably gets its name from the Algonquian, Chicahauk.
So kitty in our financial sense – no-one really knows but it seems to have been used in gambling as the money on the table, the pot to win. Maybe that in turn came from a slang word for jail? Or from a connection to ‘kit’ as equipment? No-one is sure, but at least now I know I don’t know! Now, I wonder who Kitty Fisher was?
I don’t have any pictures of kittywakes – this is just an ordinary gull in my featured image!