If you look closely at many pictures of Maine Coons (or if you have one of your own), you may notice that they have an M pattern on their forehead.
Many people in fact think that the presence of that M means that their cat is a Maine Coon (or at least part Maine Coon): M for Maine Coon! So, is this true?
Do Maine Coon Cats have an M on their forehead?
Well, yes, they do, but it’s nothing to do with their breed. My oriental longhair mix has an M on her forehead, and she is definitely not a Maine Coon! Rather, the M comes from the tabby pattern of the cat and since tabby is a common color for Maine Coon cats, seeing the M is also quite common.
But an M is not proof that you have a Maine Coon. Instead, you want to look at things like size, the mane, the thickness of the coat, and behavior. Maine Coon cats are most distinctive by their massive size, slow maturity rate, and luxurious coat, complete with a long ruff around the neck.
Where Does the M Come From?
The M marking on cats comes from their tabby coloration. Tabby is one of the most common color patterns for cats; indeed, all cats have the tabby gene for their coat color due to their relation to wild cats.
If a cat inherited the dominant agouti gene, it will have a visible tabby pattern while a cat that inherited the recessive non-agouti gene will not. If a cat inherits two copies of the recessive non-agouti, it will have ‘ghost striping’ which is a very subtle tabby pattern under strong sunlight.
Tabby is by far the most common color pattern and even many ‘solid’ colored cats will have a tabby pattern, albeit extremely faded and only visible in certain circumstances.
There are five different types of tabby markings: Classic, Mackerel, ticked, spotted, and patched. The M marking shows up in all five types but will be more or less prominent. In classic tabbies, for example, the M marking is due to frown marks on the forehead while in ticked, it’s the most prominent marking.
Now, since tabby is the most common pattern for Maine Coon cats, it’s extremely common to see Maine Coons with the M on their forehead. But it doesn’t mean anything particularly special since any tabby cat will also have that M.
Let’s Look at Legends of the M
The M marking has inspired many legends about its origin. We know that it’s due to genetics, but for many people, that M mark has meant a lot more.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different ideas on where the M marking comes from, so let’s look at a few of the common ones:
- The Legend of Mary and the Tabby: The Christian story goes that Mary was having a hard time getting baby Jesus comfortable in the manger due to it being cold. She put blankets on him and tried to make him cozy, but nothing worked. Even the other animals in the manger tried to cozy up to him to sleep but failed. Finally, a tabby cat came and snuggled up on him, purring. This created a warm atmosphere and Jesus finally fell asleep. Marry stroked (or kissed) the cat on the forehead as a thank you and the M marking appeared.
- M for Cat: The Egyptian word for cat is Mau, so it’s believed that the M mark simply represents Cat.
- The Prophet Muhammad and his cats. The story goes that Muhammad loved cats and when he was called to prayer, his cat Muezza was sleeping on his robe. He didn’t want to wake his cat, so he cut the sleeve of his robe instead to let his cat keep sleeping while he went to prayer. The other story is that Muezza saved him from a poisonous snake in his sleeve. Either way, Muhammad drew an M on the forehead of his cat to show his love for felines, particularly his own.
- Master of the House/Mouser/Mysterious/Mother/connection to the Moon: These stories are smaller scale and more scattered, but basically the ideas are that the M stands for some attribute of the cat: master, mouser, mysterious, a caring companion or a connection to the moon.
If you have a tabby cat of any sort, including a Maine Coon tabby cat, and the genetics explanation is too boring, pick your favorite legend instead. Cats certainly enjoy anything that makes them even more important in the eyes of their owner after all!
Some people have believed that the M marking on their cat means they have a Maine Coon, but as you can see now, this just isn’t true. The M marking shows up on any cat with the tabby markings and since tabby is common across breeds, pretty well any breed of cat can have an M marking.
M’s are common on Maine Coon cats because tabby coloration is common. Still, it’s fun to think that our cats have a more mystical reason for that M, so choose your favorite story and go with it if you like!
In short, tabby Maine Coon cats have the M marking, often giving them an air of surprise, sternness, wonder, or mystery. Enjoy your Maine Coon and it’s M!
Does your Maine Coon have an M? What does it do to their facial expression overall? Let us know!
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.