Do Cats Know Their Names?

do cats know their names?

It is a question many of us have wondered at one point or another and it is a fascinating subject really…

Some studies say, that not only do they know their own name, but can actually differentiate between others as well.

We have all wondered this deep down. “Does my cat know that I am calling his name, or am I just yelling random noises at him like some fool?”

Ignoring the fact that well…technically all words are just noises, you may be in for a pleasant bit of news.

Last April, a study came out suggesting that, not only are some cats able to distinguish their own names from other random words, but that that this was not limited to simply their owner or those very close to them.

The Facts & Research

Before we go into further detail on this study and how your little Whiskers might legitimately know his name apart from maybe “Dinnertime” or “Hey!”, we have to quickly go over why this is groundbreaking news to begin with.

Yes, it is groundbreaking, let me explain why.

Prior to this report, despite the fact that between 58 and 94 million cat owners existed and cats being so popular, very little had been done in terms of research into this aspect.

While much had been broken down and researched on the nature of dogs as pets, the same level of scientific interest didn’t extend as much to cats, leaving them largely mysterious.

As if they weren’t mysterious enough already…

And while it is no secret that cats are highly intelligent and even brilliant creatures, not much more was ever really considered about them in this way.

Now, to be fair, things like cat mannerisms have been looked into such as their body language, but again, none of this ever truly answered the questions we might have about just how cognizant they were to us humans (or servants, depending on who you are talking to…)

This remained to be true, until just recently.

Also read: are cats loyal?

grey cat with yellow eyes outside. cat name training. do cats understand words? cat behaviors.
do cats understand their names when we call them?

They Do Understand It!

Well, mostly…

Researchers at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan conducted a study with several cats (78 cats) to answer this question more thoroughly, and whether they really knew their own names or not. (1.)

During the experiment, lead by Atsuko Saito, they pulled some cats both from domesticated households as well as “cat cafes” to use in the research.

The cats were then put through several auditory tests to properly determine their level of recognition of their own names in particular.

First, they were played a recording of their owners voice calling out several different nouns that sounded largely, but not exactly, like their own names.

Then, another person would be recorded reciting those same words and nouns in their own different voice.

The third test was a recording of their owner calling our several other cat’s names before the separate recording would then follow suit.

Then finally, the owner would call out the cat’s name before a following recording of a separate person would play, calling out the cats name similarly but in their own voice of course.

It was intended to see if the animal would recognize their owners unique voice or not.

What the researchers found out was that, while each of the cats were initially interested when the list of words began, over time they gradually became disinterested in the recordings.

That is, however, until the final test was performed and their own names were called.

It was then discovered that, on average, the animals were much more responsive when hearing their own names being called out as opposed to the other non-names that had been called out before.

So yes, cats do recognize their own names being called out without a doubt.

orange cat hiding under paws. cute orange cat on bed. cat bloggers.
can cats understand human words, really?

So Snowballs Is Just Ignoring Me Then?

Well, that is when this data surrounding this subject becomes a bit murky and less defined.

While the felines overwhelmingly showed more interest when their names were being called as opposed to the other sounds, this “interest” did not necessarily correlate with “attention”.

In most of the cases, the kitties reacted to hearing their name by way of “orienting behaviors”.

This means that they primarily moved their ears or turned their head.

In reality, less than 10% of the cats actually responded in a way you could call “communicative behavior” (vocalization or physical movement).

Interestingly, the research also showed that cats seem to know the difference between their names in relation to the names of other cats around them.

Specifically, in domesticated homes with many different cats around, where the cats are assigned specific and unique names each, it was shown that these cats reacted only primarily to their own name rather than the other, similarly sounding cat names.

What makes this even more fascinating and cool to know is that the same was not the case for the felines pulled from the “cat cafes” despite similarly being in a multi-cat environment.

This lead many to theorize that the excessive and intense stimuli from the continuous cafe patrons actually resulted in the cats failing to associate their own name to them in particular.

Interesting, maybe if you use the name too much then they will fail to realize it is their actual name, and just see it as more of gibberish as they hear it so often.

Imagine if your name were being called out like that so much all day, living in a place such as a cat café where you get constant attention from strangers almost constantly.

Also read: How many hours do cats sleep in a day?

What Does This Tell Us?

Again, this date and research isn’t wholly conclusive when it comes down to it, even if it does tell us a lot about these fun animals.

While it definitely appears as though they do, on some level recognize and can distinguish their own names from other words, that is about all we really know.

In the study, it was theorized by the author that, rather than assigning a meaning to the names we’ve given them, cats merely recognize it in relation to the actions and activities we do around them, not too different to the phenomenon known as “Pavlovian conditioning”, or “classical conditioning”.

For our beloved little cats, rather than seeing their names in the same way we humans tend to see ours, it is thought that they merely associate it with feedings, being petted, or the specific attention we are showing them at any given time.

Dr. Jennifer Vonk, a specialized professor in animal cognition, agreed with the study’s determination and results.

She said, in an email with NPR, that, “I agree with the authors that it cannot tell us if cats represent their names as a label that identifies them…”

This adds more weight to the belief that, at least as it stands now, saying the name “Snowball” is just as much a recognition as cracking open a can of tuna for your cat.

three grey kittens. black cat with blue eyes. grey striped kittens with blue eyes.

Does This Mean My Cat Won’t Respond?

Now, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves…

As I mentioned before, the general nature of these mysterious animals is much less understood than we would like.

As opposed to their bitter rivals that bark, there is simply so much that we have yet to learn about them and that is to be unveiled about them over time.

And even if it is true that they do not recognize their names in the same way that you or I do with ours, that doesn’t innately mean that there is an issue present, especially since the final result is fundamentally the same in the end.

There are still numerous points and questions that are yet to be answered fully, that this study also brought to life and made us wonder about as well.

For example, how does the owners voice factor into a cat’s response or reaction?

Similarly, as these animals have a much greater sense of hearing than we humans do, how likely are they to distinguish between a recorded voice as opposed to the authentic voice of their owner?

It is still not truly 100% conclusive as to whether a cat knowns its own name or simply associates it with all these other possible things.

The fact of the matter is, when it boils down to it all that kitties are fickle creatures.

They enjoy things on their terms and, quite frankly, would only allow us to believe the names we are calling them matter as long as we remain at their beck and call.

For people who have cats and would like to learn how to train them to respond more to their name, there are many specific methods you can try.

Cat Name Training Made Easy

There are many things you must keep in mind when you are trying to name train your cat, and the things you most definitely need are:


Firstly, it is very important to realize at the very start that getting a cat to do anything outside of eating their food is quite the herculean task and takes an incredible amount of patience and a strong will power on your part.

I am sure anyone who has been around these animals can attest to how hard it is to make them do anything when they don’t feel like doing it.

The same is also true when it comes to trying to train your cat to respond properly to their own name.

Specifically, because it is a cat, and that this is a behavioral process, the best way to go about training them is to go slow and methodical.

You must use a lot of patience, understanding and always remember to still be gentle and kind even when you may feel frustrated with any lack of process.

Rewards and Cat Treats

The second and a big thing you must also have around when training your cat are some treats to keep around throughout the process.

As stated within the first rule above, cats are really fickle beings, and incredibly difficult to truly tame or domesticate.

They are going to enjoy hanging out with you for your “little experiment” for all of about 10 minutes maybe before very likely losing interest, so you are going to need some way to keep them around, for at least as long as possible.

It is a good motivation tactics, tasty treats.

Siamese Cat with blue eyes.

Recognize the Signs

As I spoke about in the study above, if you are looking for your little friend to jump up and down, or talk back to you when you call their name, that is not such a realistic thing to hope for even during the best of circumstances.

While they may have a vocal or “communicative” response to you, more often than not it will be largely nonverbal actions you will get in return from your cat.

This means that, rather than responding to you by meowing back or running into your arms after you call them, it is much more likely that they may only flick their ears subtly or turn their head towards you.

This isn’t them ignoring you, but is simply how they communicate and express themselves.

Get Others to Join

So, as the study indicated, the animals were not limited to responding only to their owners voice when their name was called.

Instead, many cats reacted even when hearing a strangers voice call their name like this.

With this in mind, be sure to try to include others and maybe even your friends it possible as it might be fun to try this at home with your own cat and see how they react.

If you live with any close friends or family members, definitely consider having them join it.

The more your kitty hears her name, and the more people they hear saying it, the more connected they will feel to their own name.

Not only that, but learning how to name train your cat is a great bonding experience, as well as a wonderfully fun hobby to try.

So, when you know these simple tips and tricks on how to train your cat at home you will find out that, yes it actually is possible to get them to do as they are told!

Crazy concept huh?

Well I highly recommend you try this out some time and find out yourself just how fun it is. Let us know what you think in the comments below.


Author: Cathour

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