Behavior
An upside down tabby cat with whiskers out.

Do Cats Know Their Names?

Do cats know their names? Is there any way to talk to your cat or any specific names to give your cat to make it easier for him to understand you?

Cait Rohan Kelly  |  Apr 17th 2019


“Do cats know their names?” I think about this a lot as I call my cats’ names. Sometimes, they seem to respond, turning to me, meowing in my direction — or even full-on prancing toward me for a cuddle or pet. But other times, when I call out their names, they ignore me. Well, sometimes I’ll get a half-hearted ear-swivel in my direction. So, do cats know their names? When my cats ignore me when I call their names, are they ignoring me on purpose?!

First off — do cats know their names?

A closeup of a surprised cat with his ears back.

You talkin’ to me?! Do cats know their names? Photography © perets | E+ / Getty Images.

To get a simple, straightforward answer to “Do cats know their names?” I turned to cat behaviorist Rita Reimers. “Yes, cats know their names, especially if they associate their names with something good,” Rita confirms. “While your cat is learning his name, reinforce with goodies, playtime and extra affection so he knows hearing his name means goods things!”

Okay, so if cats know their names, why do they ignore us sometimes?

My next question after “Do cats know their names?” is naturally “Why do my cats ignore me if they do know their names?” According to Rita, they might be busy and ignoring us on purpose — or we might be using their names negatively.

“If your cat is deep in dreamland, busy eating or rough-housing with his pals, then he may not come the moment he’s called,” Rita says. “Also, if you are constantly yelling at your cat using his name when you do, no, he won’t be coming when you call. However, if he knows hearing his name means good things, he will literally come running.”

So, what can you do if your cat is ignoring you and you need his attention ASAP? Use a little bribery. “If your cat is ignoring you when you call, open a bag of treats or pull out his favorite toy,” Rita suggests. “Problem solved.”

Can you train a cat to better respond to his name?

Another question I have after “Do cats know their names?” is — “Can you train your cats to respond better to their names?” If so, how?

Rita once again mentions using positive reinforcement. Also, if you adopt a cat who is already named — especially if the kitty in question is older and has had that name for a while — you might not want to change his name. “Usually if I adopt a cat who is already named I don’t change it,” Rita explains.

Do cats respond better to certain names?

Adding to the name game — another question that follows “Do cats know their names?” is “Do cats respond better to certain names over others?” Rita advises: “Cats tend to reply best to shorter names with an “e” sound at the end.”

My cats are Gabby and Merritt. Gabby already fits the bill, but I often shorten Merritt to Mimi. I tried this theory out, and she does seem to respond better to the shorter, “e” sounds with her nickname, Mimi!

Already have a cat with a long name or thinking of naming a cat something that doesn’t end with an “e” sound? There are exceptions to every rule and some cats respond to their longer names just fine. “I had a kitty named Tinkerbelle, and she knew her name  — although at times we shortened it to Tinky,” Rita says.

Do you cats respond better to certain pitches?

There’s no need to be embarrassed if you baby talk to your cats. In fact, your cat might respond to baby talk better.

“Cats tend to respond best to higher-pitched female voices,” Rita explains. “Their sound range is much broader than us humans, and they are also able to hear the subtlest noises, which suits them well for hunting small prey. Loud, booming voices tend to startle cats and send them running to hide. Perhaps this is a throwback to when cats were hunted by larger animals in the wild.”

Do cats know your voice?

Could your kitty pick your voice out of a lineup? Rita says yes and how our cats react to strangers’ voices might also have to do with their preference for higher pitches.

“Your cat can tell your voice apart from other people’s voices,” Rita explains. “I see evidence of this when I have company over — even if it’s just one other female person, some of my shy cats will run and hide the moment they hear her voice. When my handyman, Brett, or my dad come by, I don’t see some of my cats for hours. Although my Punkin, Bella and Smokey do like meeting new people and will stay around even when a man is present; the rest of them not so much!”

Why do cats seem to respond to their names less than dogs do?

Of course, this last inquiry that I have when thinking “Do cats know their names?” has a very feline answer. Cats respond to their names less than dogs do simply because … they’re cats. “Dog always seem to be ready for action, attention and playtime,” Rita explains. “Cats tend to choose their moments.”

Thumbnail: Photography © Peresmeh | E+ / Getty Images.

About the author

Cait Rohan Kelly is a digital writer, editor and marketer with over a decade of experience working with everything from sports stars to different types of cheese. She is currently the Digital Content Marketing Manager for Catster and Dogster. Cait is a lifelong animal lover and cat lady. She lives in Connecticut with her husband (a self-professed cat dude), her son (his first word will probably be one of her cats’ names) and her two rescue cats — Gabby, an orange tabby and avid sleeper, and Merritt, a sassy calico.

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