An upside down tabby cat with whiskers out.
An upside down tabby cat with whiskers out. Photography © Peresmeh | E+ / Getty Images.

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?
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“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.

Read more about cat behavior on Catster.com:

16 thoughts on “Do Cats Know Their Names?”

  1. There are some animal telepaths trained by the celebrated, gifted psychic Amelia Kinkade. She has an online course for those interested. Details on her website . You can have real conversations with your companion animals with Amelia’s marvellous techniques.

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  2. Puss Puss is our 5yo Bengal cross male, Simba is our 2yo male and a real mummys boy to me and Smokey is a little girl almost 1
    I found that by using a slightly different pitch for each cat, they know when I’m calling them or one of the others and respond quicker Simba will run to me as soon as he hears my voice, regardless as he is really loving and affectionate and I’m his favourite human plus he knows when mums there it means lots of cuddles and attention lol
    ive also been training them to come when they hear a training clicka I use and rewarding them with treats so now as soon as they hear the sound they come running plus I also use it when its their dinner time and they are actually responding to the sound even when there are no treats so proud of them and it makes me feel calmer as I know that they wont get lost as I can always find them thanks to this training

  3. Andrea Montgomery

    I adopted a mistreated and never fed male cat, about one and a half years old in the middle of winter. The people moved out over night, and left the cat behind. It took me about 2 weeks , not to make him run away, and he would have some food. I still had to stay 15 feet away from him. The house was opened by property management, and the cat slipped inside. I talked to prop. management, to see if I could get him captured; it was very hard,
    but after about four days with treats and food I got my Vets. raccoon cage and I finally captured him. I did not know his name so I did decide to call him “Sasha”. It took a very long time to establish trust and comfort for him. But now when ever he is near by and I call him, he is almost like a dog!!! It makes me feel real good, that he did not loose all the trust in people.

  4. Tinkerbell rescued my husband and I 5 years ago this fall and we considered changing her name as we felt it was too Disney(we live in Orlando). But as she was neglected before we she rescued us, we felt her name should remain to not add more stress to her life. Well, she is now called ‘Tinkey’, ‘Stinkey Tinkey’ ‘Honey Bunches’, ‘Stinky’ and Boo Boo Bear! Really, she responds to our soothing voices when her names are called. But she does know we are talking to her!

  5. Our last litter were named after “The Good Place” Tahani and Chidi. Chidi loved his name, but his sister was having none of it. So she went from Tahani to Queenie.

  6. Our current cat is Rusty. He will respond to our calling him by name when he’s downstairs and lonesome. Then he remembers that treats and affection can be found upstairs. All good. But when he’s being Mr. Fussy with seven dishes of offerings out and still begging, he becomes “Knucklehead”. He’s also “Sweetums” sorry! Outdoor possums, skunks and raccoons are happy with his rejected offerings.

  7. I have three cats: Skeezix, Mugwump, Ignatz. All three adopted, all three respond to their names altho somewhat selectively. After all, they are cats! I used to raise labs and schnauzers and my cats are just as, or more, intelligent and responsive as the dogs were.

  8. When I call Millie or Beau, it’s usually for something good, like supper time or treats, so they respond pretty quickly. And if I call only one, the other one doesn’t come along, so I guess that’s good evidence that they know which one is being spoken to. Similarly, if one is being naughty, I can say “Beau, that’s naughty – I will squirt you!” and Millie doesn’t stop what she’s doing and run. (Of course, that may just mean they know which one is being naughty at the time!)

  9. I’ve had many cats over the years. Some responded to their names, others, not at all. The cat who was most attuned to her name was Beauty Queen. She would respond even if you said her name in a conversation with someone else. I’ll try the tips with my current cats (non responders). Wish me luck!

  10. maryanne kuczynski

    all of my male cats 4 have names ending in y—-however the oldest cat i have is a female 5 total—she is cara–and the boss lol- she calls me– and the boys know she is the boss—spay and neuter– all rescues

  11. Maria Elena Carter

    I have 2 cats, Sally and Luna, both know her names. Sally think she is human and talk to us, that is very funny.

  12. It’s very simple, really, and it all boils down to how cats survive in the wild.

    Cats are solitary, ambush style hunters. They have no instinct to answer to another individual – that is a LEARNED behavior.

    Whereas dogs, with their pack mentality, will instinctively react to their “alpha” (you) when called.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. Cats are quite intelligent, but they are not fundamentally wired to be “obedient.”

    That being said, YES, cats can be easily trained to come when called (and to do many other things as well). Like the article suggests, positive reinforcement is key! Treats, play, attention. You have to make it worth the cat’s while. They won’t obey just bc they feel they “have to.” But again, this is not because they are “bad” or “ornery” – this is just how they have been created, period!

  13. I have four cats (Kashmir, Frostie, Patina, and Flo) and two dogs (Golden Retrievers). All six animals know their names but the cats are much better at responding consistantly than the dogs. The cats are only allowed outside when I’m with them and I wouldn’t never let them outside unless they come to me when called. My daughter has one cat that besides coming to his name, he will also sit and shake hands. He also walks with her from their third floor apartment to the car to come visit me.

  14. My cats certainly know and respond to their names, Molly, tuco and sameer.
    Wherever I am in the house I can call them and they come running although sameer tends to proudly sashet along.

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