Do cats know their names?

Do cats know their names? If you ask the same question of dogs the answer would be yes because dogs come to the call of their name. In principle, the same goes for cats in my personal experience. A cat might not come but he will normally perk up. However, it depends on the relationship between cat and person and the circumstances.

Domestic cats know the sound of their names
Domestic cats normally know the sound of their names
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This does not mean that cats recognise their name in a meaningful way although I am not discounting that remote possibility.

It is that domestic cats recognise the sound of their name as spoken by their human guardian. This is my assessment. If you have a different one please tell me.

I am sure that millions of cat owners would attest to the fact that when they call their cat he/she comes running probably because there is something nice on offer. But they do recognise the sound of their name.

When I call my cat he looks up. He is very aware of his name. The same response has occurred with other cats I have lived with over the years.

Many years ago, I can remember going into a boarding cattery to pick up my female cat. I had not seen her for two weeks. I called her name and she looked up and her tailed wagged excitedly. The cattery owner remarked: “she recognises her name.”. True she did.

However, I stress that it is more a recognition of the sound of their name that sticks in their mind. There is a subtle difference between the sound of a name and name itself.

Study

I have just read the results of a Japanese study on this. When hearing their names, cats “displayed orienting behaviour”. This means they turned their head towards the source of the sound. The cat’s responded better to their owners compared to strangers. The cats did not move towards the person. For me this clearly indicates a recognition of the sound of their name and supports my thoughts.

Comment: the cats would have moved if there was a good reason to move! For example food. Cats are less domesticated than dogs. This results in their less responsive behavior. Also cats take their time to move. It can be several minutes before they move.

I am open to alternative viewpoints.



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7 thoughts on “Do cats know their names?”

  1. I forbid the use of the words kitty kitty in my home. All of my cats were addressed by their name from very early on. Since coming to me is positive thing , i guess, they respond quite quickly.

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  2. Very interesting! Every cat I have ever cared for has responded overtly to their name, also to visitors using their name. When I have cared for colonies, I or other stewards have always named the cats, and used their names. They respond.

    I have wondered about cats naming each other. I have noticed that different cats (that know each other) greet each other in different, but very subtle ways. Could ‘names’ be considered ‘names’ if not spoken or written? Could names be names if they are a set of emotions/experiences, expressed by posture, pheromones?

    Sign language, character choreography all exist, though sign language tends to follow a familiar form of nomenclature initially, but often a name, once familiar can have its own particular sign which may be a short form of the letters of the name or a sign based on characteristics or traits in a person.

    I have no doubt that cats recognise their names in a meaningful way. They respond according to the tone of voice, the situation etc.

    If humans studied what other species said to each other, rather than concentrating on what they have to say to us, we might gain better insight into their communication and learn more effective understanding of and with them.

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  3. Lovely article. I do believe cats learn their names, including nicknames.

    All the cats I have ever been owned by knew their names. Many of the came to me when I called them.

    My two current cats know their names quite well. They both look at whoever calls them. Most of the time Cleo will come directly to me when I call her name.

    Rex may or may not come near when called. He does respond well to “Rex, heel.” Although he doesn’t react as well as the dog.🤣 He has to decide how close he wants to be.

    When misbehaving (according to human standards), they each know who is being addressed and will respond accordingly.

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    • Great, thanks for contributing your thoughts. It is important because we have to rely on ourselves – cat owners – to answer the question.

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  4. I believe they do know their names,I now have 2 semi-feral cats that appeared on my property winter of last year and the Grey Tiger one is ‘Baby Boi’ and the Black one is ‘Blackie’ and I started calling them those names and today when I go out to feed the colony and I call their names they come right to me and even my personal 13 cats also come when I call their names too so I do believe they know their names.

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