If you’re like most cat owners, you probably spend a decent amount of time chatting with your cat when you’re at home. It’s only a problem if we think they answer us, right?
While our cats are unlikely to answer us verbally, our feline friends understand much more than we give them credit for. While they aren’t as obedient as dogs are, cats are capable of understanding and responding to human words.
The first thing many cat owners try to teach a cat is to respond to their name. And luckily for us, most cats are capable of recognizing their name.
But as most cat owners know, whether or not they answer to it is a totally different matter.
In this article, we’ll cover the following:
Unlike dogs, cats in the wild are a relatively solitary species. While they will often live in communities, they rarely work together and are independent hunters.
Because of this innate independence it sometimes seems like our cats are ignoring us. In fact, cats are notorious for being snuggly and loving one minute and completely aloof the next.
Sometimes when we call our cat’s name they come running, while other times they ignore us. Do cats even recognize us? Do they ignore us because they don’t know their names or because of their innate sense of independence?
It may be a little bit of both. While many cats learn their names and will come when called, it is also theorized that our feline friends are actually reacting to the sound of our voice.
An easy and fun way to put your cat to the test is to try calling them by their name and then try calling them with words that aren’t their name. If they react to their name either by coming when called or at least looking up but not to the other words, you can be pretty sure that they recognize their name.
On the other hand, if your cat reacts to every vocalization in the same way, it could be that they are just pleased to hear your voice. In either case, it’s a win and a sign that your cat loves and recognizes you.
Yes, they can. In fact, kittenhood is the ideal time to begin teaching your cat to recognize their name.
Kittens are like little sponges that absorb information quickly. It’s also the time in which your cat learns to trust you, figures out who you are, and forms a bond with you that will last a lifetime.
Use your kitten’s name as frequently as possible to get them used to recognizing their name and associating it with themselves. While this process will likely take a few months, your kitten should recognize their name in no time.
The best thing you can to do teach your cat their name is to say their name… a lot! After all, how is your kitten or adult cat supposed to figure out their name if they never hear it?
Use their name as often as humanly possible. It’s an especially good idea to use your cat’s name when you’re about to feed them, as this is the time of the day when your cat is most likely to pay attention to you. Refer to them by name when you call them for their meals and when you give them treats.
If you notice your cat or kitten responding positively when you use their name, reward them! Offering your cat a tasty treat when they respond to their name is a good way to reinforce the idea that it’s something you like.
If you’ve adopted an older cat or a kitten that already has a name, you may be wondering whether or not you can change it.
While it’s inadvisable to change a dog’s name, the situation for cats is a little bit different. If the cat is younger than one year, it’s absolutely okay to change their name to whatever you want.
If the cat is older, though, the situation is a little more complicated. How your cat reacts to a new name will depend largely on the type of home they lived in before they came to live with you. Did they have a very conscientious owner who likely got them used to hearing and responding to their name? Were they in a shelter for a long period of time? Do they respond to their original name if you call them?
If your cat seems to understand and respond to the name they were given, it’s not a great idea to change it. You could confuse your cat and it may be difficult for them to learn a new name. If your new cat doesn’t seem to recognize their name, then you can feel free to change it.
Because animal behaviorists can’t agree on whether or not cats really understand their names or simply respond to human voices, you shouldn’t stress over your cat’s name too much. If your new cat came with a terrible name, you can change it if you want, especially if they don’t seem to know their name anyway.
In either case, your cat will respond to you primarily because they love you and are happy to be with you. As long as you have a strong bond with your cat, it doesn’t really matter what you call them!
It’s fun to decide what to name your cat. The options are nearly limitless, and there’s plenty of room for creativity.
However, if you’d like to help your cat learn their name, there’s a pretty simple rule to follow: the shorter the better.
A cat named Max will learn their name more quickly than a cat named Mr. Whisker Fluffy Butt. Monosyllabic names are your best bet: they are easy to say, easy to remember, and simple enough that your cat can figure out that when you call for “Max,” you’re calling for him!
It’s also a good idea to avoid names that rhyme with commands or other pets. If you want your cat to learn how to beg, avoid calling them “Peg.” And, if you have a cat named Fuzzy, don’t name the second one Wuzzy!
If you’re really stuck, you may want to check out a book of pet names. The Cat Lover’s Guide to Naming Your Cat is a great option. It includes tons of fun tips, amusing anecdotes, and names to choose from.
If you want to make life a little easier for your cat, their name should be distinct, easy to say, and relatively short.
Many cats will learn their name while they are still very young, while others never will!
Success depends partially on you and partially on your cat. If you choose a very long and complex name and never use it, it’s very unlikely that your cat will ever learn to respond to their name. However, if you choose a short name and repeat it to them often, your chances are pretty good.
If you need help choosing a name for your cat, check out the book Cat Lover’s Guide to Naming Your Cat.
What did you name your cat? Does your cat come when you call them? Do they seem to know their own names? Let us know in the comments, we want to hear all about it!
After moving to New York City from Rome, Italy, I began working in the nonprofit world. Despite my day job, my passion has always been animals, especially dogs and cats, and writing. What better way to combine the two? I’ve been a pet owner for 15 years, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional hermit crab. My beloved cat, Mozart, who I found as a newborn kitten, sparked my love for felines and is now nearly 15 years old. I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the local ASPCA, where I enjoy spending time with the cats and cleaning up after the dogs. I’ve been writing about pet ownership and care for the past five years.