The word ‘tabby’ comes from the Arabic word ‘attabiya’, a striped silk that was similar to the cat’s markings. The pattern of a cat’s stripes, and the distinctive M markings on a tabby cat’s forehead, is determined by it’s genetics. However that isn’t as interesting as how us humans have made our feline friends’ markings part of our story, and theirs.
There are several religious stories about the origin of their unique facial markings. Some believe that the “M” stands for Mau, the Ancient Egyptian word for “cat”. Since cats were revered in Ancient Egypt, it’s certainly possible. There were three cat-headed goddesses: Mafdet, Bastet, and Sekhmet. The goddess Mut was depicted as a cat or in the company of cats. Ra, the Sun God of Ancient Egypt, was represented as a cat in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Christians believed that when baby Jesus was crying in his crib, a cat climbed into the manger, purred, and sent him off to sleep. As thanks, Mary gave the cat the “M” from the first letter of her name.
In Islam, the prophet Muhammad was known as a cat lover. He bestowed the “M” on his feline friends when he rested his hand on the brow of his favourite cat. An alternative Islamic story is that the tabby cat, called Muezza, saved his Mohammad’s life by killing a snake.
In non-religious circles, though, it’s believed that the “M” are frown lines. The sheer concentration of watching mouse holes until a mouse emerged marked Felis catusforever on their foreheads.
The tabby cat isn’t a fancy breed, but it’s true you can recognise one: the “M” has it.