Tom and Jerry is an American animated franchise and series of comedy short films created in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Best known for its 161 theatrical short films by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the series centers on the rivalry between the titular characters of a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. Many shorts also feature several recurring characters.
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Tom and Jerry sound like two perfectly generic, ethnically vague, mid-20th century American male names. In other words, they were perfect for the names of a stylistically simple cartoon cat and mouse. But creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera didn’t come up with those names — the ones for their iconic, undying creations — until after they’d already produced a cartoon about the pair. The first Tom and Jerry cartoon, 1940’s Puss Gets the Boot, is actually a Jasper and Jinx toon. Jasper was the name of the cat and Jinx the name of the mouse. Hanna and Barbera just didn’t think those monikers suited their creations, and seeking ideas from crew members, they went with animator John Carr’s suggestion of Tom and Jerry.
Carr didn’t invent that pairing of words that just happen to sound good together. “Tom and Jerry” was a phrase floating around the English language for more than a century. In 1821, British writer Pierce Egan wrote Life in London, the stories of a couple of roustabout toughs named, you guessed it, Tom and Jerry. The book was so successful that it inspired a stage play and a boozy eggnog cocktail called the Tom and Jerry that would ultimately outlast the popularity of the source material.