Do Cats Know Their Names? It Depends On How You Say Them

Most cats know their names, although they might choose to ignore you when you call. It’s seven pm, and I’m standing in Sam’s driveway calling his name. Do cats know their names? Sam knows his. But either he’s out of earshot, or he’s ignoring me.

A few minutes later, when I’m starting to get really annoyed, a long, lean black cat suddenly appears on his fence. Sam jumps down, rubs against my legs, and we go inside.

I love pet sitting for indoor/outdoor cats, but getting them to come when I call can be a challenge. While most cats know their names, they don’t always recognize my voice or the way their names sound when I call. .

Study Shows Cats Know Their Names

Just to test what most of us have known all along, three researchers at the University of Tokyo studied 20 cats. They recorded the cats’ humans and three strangers saying the cats’ names.

The cats pretty much ignored everyone. But they did move their heads and ears in what the researchers called “orienting behavior.” In other words, they were trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.
Interesting, but I’m not sure that proves cats know their names. They do that whenever they hear a sound.


How To Make Sure Your Cats Know Their Names

Here are some ways to make sure your cats know their names. 

  • Say your cat’s name often so he gets used to hearing it. Say it the same way, too, Once he’s “Ti-gurrr,” he should always be Ti-gurrr. If you say Tiii-ger sometimes, he won’t be sure who you’re talking to
  • Everyone else in your family should say the cat’s name often, too, so he learns to recognize different voices calling him.
  • Cats like to hear simple, musical human speech. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re calling your cat. 
  • Most cats love treats. Rewarding your cat with treats or some wet food will make him feel like it’s worth it to come when you call. 
  • Most cats like the sound of “s” in a name. And many come when they hear “eee,” as in Kiteee. 
  • Cats also seem to like two-syllable names. But to a cat’s ears, long names aren’t worth a response. If your cat has a long name, try giving him a two-syllable nickname. 

Of course, when you’re calling a cat, you have to remember who you’re dealing with. Have you heard the quote from Mary Bly, “Dogs come when they’re called. Cats take a message and get back to you.” It’s true! And don’t assume that, even if he knows you’re talking to him, the cat will get back to you anytime soon, if at all. They sometimes have more important things to do, like taking a nap!

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