How Maine Coons got their name

The title is bold and confident. I am not that confident about this! But I think I know why Maine Coons have their strange name. Of all the cat breed names the Maine Coon is perhaps the strangest. The first half of it makes sense because this all-American cat hails, predominantly, from the state of Maine. That's fine but what about the 'Coon' part of the name? That's initially baffling.

How Maine Coons got their name
How Maine Coons got their name. These early 'coon cats' looked like standard large domestic cats. No selectively bred Maine Coon features per the breed standard. Just regular cats. Image in the public domain and I am thankful to Sarah Hartwell's website messybeast.com.

They used to call the early Maine Coons 'coon cats' in lower case, no capitalization. The Lowell Sun (a local newspaper, I presume) on November 25, 1893 reported on 'coon cats'. Here is the report, verbatim:

"A correspondent of Science tells of seeing in a private house in Chicago recently two cats which the owners called 'coon cats'. They had been obtained in the edge of the forest around Moosehead lake, and it was claimed that they were hybrids or descendants of hybrids of the domestic cat and the raccoon. They were larger than the ordinary house cat, had very coonlike countenances and bushy coonlike tails that were always extended. One had the habit of ascending something high and resting stretched out, and their motions when in a little hurry were a coonlike gallop."

Because the tail was bushy there were enough people who believed that these barn cats were raccoon/domestic cat hybrids. They genuinely believed that raccoons could mate with a community or stray cat and produce cats as offspring. They can't. It is genetically impossible.

ASSOCIATED PAGE: 7 facts about the early development of the Maine Coon

But back in the late 1800s scientific knowledge was relatively primitive. No internet! No Wikipedia! Social media! Just superstition and general ignorance by the standards of today although there is still plenty of ignorance ;) .

So, I believe that the best bet on why 'coon' is in the name of this cat breed is because enough people believed, for a while, that the cat was half raccoon. OR, the cat behaved somewhat like a raccoon and had raccoon-like features. It is easy to dissect out the word 'coon' from raccoon.

ASSOCIATED PAGE: Difference between European and American Maine Coons

The only alternative is that story of the ship's captain whose name was 'Coon'. It is said that he had cats onboard his ship and they used to go ashore when he berthed. Some stayed ashore and gave birth! But that seems unlikely. I think the story of Captain Coon is fiction to try and justify the strange name of America's beautiful pedigree cat. 

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