Do cats know their names?

You might have noticed that your beloved feline friend responds immediately to your beck and call. What's behind this? Do cats know and understand their names, or do they just respond to the tone of your voice? Let's find out!

It's important to train your cat, but does it actually understand and know its name?
It's important to train your cat, but does it actually understand and know its name?  © Unsplash/Zeke Tucker

Cats are famous for being remarkably clever, and they certainly seem to know a thing or two – including their names!

You might have noticed that, after a while, your feline friend will respond when you call its name.

So what's actually going on? Do cats understand their monikers or is it something else they're responding to?

Need a laugh? Cats with jobs gets it done
Cats Need a laugh? Cats with jobs gets it done

In this cat guide, TAG24 will help you find out whether cats know their names.

Can cats figure out what they're called, how can you teach your cat its name, and what are some good cat name options!

Here are the answers!

Do cats know and understand their names?

Research published in the journal Scientific Reports has proven that cats do know and understand their name, even if it is called by a complete stranger. The Japanese study from Tokyo's Sophia University observed 78 domestic cats across Japan, asking cat owners and strangers to call a cat's name and videotaping the cat's responses.

Interestingly, the cats would respond similarly both if a human they knew called their name and if a human they didn't know called their name. This finding then drew the conclusion that their response isn't simply due to the sound of their human's voice, but due to their name itself.

"Cats habituated to the serial presentation of four different general nouns or four names of cohabiting cats showed a significant rebound in response to the subsequent presentation of their own names," the study says, "these cats discriminated their own names from general nouns even when unfamiliar persons uttered them."

While there hasn't been a huge amount of evidence collected on how and why cats recognize their names, it is certainly clear that they both recognize and understand what the implication of their name is.

Interestingly: Names aren't the only words that cats can learn. They often also react positively to words like "food" and negatively to words like "vet" because of the associations that they have formed with the sound of those words.

How can cats learn their name?

Words are learned by cats through both positive and negative reinforcement. It's a game of associations. If you say "Food" whenever you give them food, they'll start associating that word with what it is. Similarly, if you pair their name with any noise you make to get their attention, they will start to understand that their name refers to them.

If you want to consciously train your cat to know its name, though, things get a little more tricky. Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Say their name clearly and present them with a reward.

Step 2: Take a few steps away and do the same thing again. Repeat this process a number of times.

Step 3: Always say their name before giving them anything or doing anything with them. If you pick them up, make sure to say their name, say their name to them when you are patting, associate it with positive things.

The most important aspect of this whole thing is that final point about associations. Whatever you do, make sure that your cat's name is associated with good things and not bad. You do not want your beloved feline friend getting sad or anxious whenever it hears its own name.

Simply repeat its name regularly, over a number of months, and your cat will quickly learn its name and understand who it refers to.

Cats unconsciously learn their name by associating the sound of it with themselves.
Cats unconsciously learn their name by associating the sound of it with themselves.  © Unsplash/Dana Nguyen

What are good cat names?

So, if cats know their names and will understand you when you call out to them, shouldn't you choose a good name? Well, of course you should! Cat names should simple and easy to pronounce, and should generally never be more than two syllables in length. Anything longer may confuse your cat and could make it harder for them to learn and respond to their name.

A few great cat names include:

  • Harry
  • Oliver
  • Simba
  • Cleo
  • Daisy
  • Smokey
  • Bailey
  • Gladys
  • Georgia
  • June
  • Winston
  • Ralph
  • George
  • Fern
  • Holly
  • Nutmeg
  • Nacho
  • Lucky
  • Nugget
  • Basil
  • Fluffy
  • Hudson
  • Bruce
  • Bob
  • Mozart
  • Ringo
  • Pippin
  • Gandalf
  • Olaf

There are so many fantastic cat names and plenty of options to choose from. Go with something easy for both you and that cat to remember, but also something that you'll have a connection to.

Cats know their names but won't always respond!

Cats are wonderful creatures, but can often be quite aloof. They know their name and they'll usually respond, but sometimes they'll completely ignore you and do nothing more than subtly flick or tap their tail. If this happens, don't worry too much – they are sweet and loving animals, but even the most wonderful creatures will want to be left alone sometimes!

The most important thing, though, is that if your cat totally stops responding to its name, you should get its hearing checked by the vet. Cats can go deaf too, and if that happens you'll want to know and also find out about any potential treatments.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Zeke Tucker

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