Do Cats Know Their Names?

Most cats know their names, but they still might choose to ignore you when you call them.
Do cats know their names, Thomasina? My cat often comes to me when I call him. But when my cat sitter calls him, he never appears.
-- Puzzled

Hey, Puzzled!
We ignore our cat sitter, too! And it took us a while to recognize our names when she called us.

Everyone says things differently. So if your cat is used to hearing you say "Tig-gurr," and your cat sitter says "Tiii-ger," he's not going to be sure she's talking to him.
Of course, we recognize voices, too. When your cat hears your voice, he probably assumes you're about to offer him food. But who know what that cat sitter wants.

Study Shows Cats Know Their Names 

My human typist found this. Some 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." I think that means they were trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Interesting, but I'm not sure that proves cats know their names. We do that whenever we 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.
  • We like to hear simple, musical human speech. That's something to keep in mind when you're calling your cat. 
  • Most of us 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. 
  • We like the sound of "s" in a name. And most of us come when we hear "eee," as in Kiteee. 
  • We also like two-syllable names. Maybe that's why, when our human says "Thomasina," all I hear is "Thoma." After that, I stop listening.
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 we'll get back to you anytime soon, if at all. We sometimes have more important things to do, like taking a nap!

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