Do Cats Know Their Names?

Last updated on February 16th, 2023 at 07:34 am

Do cats know their names? Cats, like humans, can learn their names. You may not believe your cat is listening when you call them, but they are.
Image Credit: Tinh Nguyen/Unsplash

Do you remember the first time you got a cat? You gave them a name, right? When you call them using that name, they usually respond to it. But that is not the case for all cats, at least not all the time. Sometimes they respond, and sometimes they don’t. That leads us to one question, “do cats know their names?”. Cats have a different way of communicating with people and other animals, they are also an expert when it comes to a lot of other things, but scientists and pet owners are still at a loss when it comes to knowing if their cat actually recognizes their names.

The answer is a bit complicated but yes, it is possible that your cat knows their name. Cats are intelligent and they can learn if you are calling them based on the sound that you produce. Researchers are still currently working on knowing if a cat can actually speak with people through other means, or if they can understand us. Don’t worry, we will explain it further in this article.

Do Cats Know Their Names? And How to Prove it?

There is an existing study that shows how cats respond to their names. The study, headed by Atsuko Saito of the Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science at the University of Tokyo and published in the journal Scientific Reports, utilized a habituation-dishabituation paradigm to evaluate whether or not cats know their own names. It’s actually a very interesting study where they study domestic cats at home. What they did is they recorded the owner’s voice while saying different words and one of it is the cat’s name. They played the recording all day while the owner is not in the room, or usually at work.

As we said, they used the habituation-dishabituation technique to see how the cat responds. Habituation explains that a cat usually responds to the first word more strongly than any other word. It describes how a cat or other creature responds less and less to repeated stimulation. Ear and head movements, vocalizations, and tail movements were frequent reactions to the words. Pretty fascinating, isn’t it? What they did differently is they incorporate the name of the cat in the process. They are trying to see that even if the cat’s name is pronounced the last, they will still react to it. 

Of course, it’s the opposite of dishabituation. Dishabituation is when a cat reacts strongly to their names rather than the other words. Do you know what happened? They react strongly to their names. This is also the case when they tried it with a stranger’s voice. However, researcher Saito argues that cats are unlikely to realize that their human-made names identify them as people. “There is no evidence that cats can recognize themselves, like us,” she told Scientific American. “So the recognition [of] their name is different from ours.” Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat behavior specialist and author, proposes that we drop our expectations that cats will respond promptly like dogs and instead enjoy cats for the beautiful animals they are. The perfect explanation for this is that they can distinguish their name through their cognitive ability.

Why Does My Cat Ignore Me When I Call It?

After reading the statements above, I’m sure you are now asking yourself, “If they can recognize their name, then why are they ignoring me?” A bit odd, right? Well, cats are very unique creatures and they are also known for being lazy. The answer is a bit harsh, they either don’t see the need to answer and come running like dogs, or they just don’t care.

Amazing, right? We can say that cats have multiple ways of showing they love us and at different times for it. When they don’t have the need to show it, they won’t show it, they will simply ignore you. As always, respect your cat’s privacy and don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t worry, some cats will run when you call their name. Congratulations if you have a cat like this! Cats interacting with you and responding to your vocalizations are a lot of fun, and you might be their favorite person. These cats are sometimes regarded as “dog-like” due to their extreme attachment to their owners.

Can I Teach My Cat to Respond to their Names?

You can teach your cat to know their names, especially if you have them since they are kittens. But, as we said, cats are somehow aloof, and sometimes, even if they are aware of the situation or what’s happening, they won’t respond as we expect them to. You can use a few techniques in order to teach them their names.

We suggest that you use some positive reinforcement to teach your cat their names. As always, food is the perfect bait for this. It’s the same for dogs, and this technique can be used for them. Here are a few tips you can do to do this positive reinforcement strategy.

  • If they are still a kitten and somehow still avoid you most of the time, use food to remove the fear that they have for you. Approach them slowly while saying their name. Do not make sudden movements.
  • Give them treats whenever they respond to the name that you gave them.
  • When they are not responding, do not do anything harsh to them or shout at them. Doing this will remove the trust that they gave you and make you go back to zero.

Remember, if you own a cat, you have to be patient with every single thing that you want them to do. You have to understand that they have different personalities and not because your friend’s cat responds gracefully to their owner, doesn’t mean that yours will. Learn to accept that first and try the strategy above to gain your cat’s trust and attention.

This is also important to know, when a kitten is given its first name for the first time, or when an adult cat is brought into the house for the first time and given a new name, there are a number of scenarios in which the cat may be unfamiliar with its own name. Don’t yell and scream at your cat because of this; it’s not his fault. It’s OK if an adopted adult cat doesn’t instantly respond to its new name; it may be on its third or fourth moniker by this point. You should not assume that your cat knows its name simply because it does not react to its owner’s calls. The bright side is that felines rapidly master their new surnames. Remember that your cat is perplexed and will require extra time to adjust, even if it is annoying.


Cats are fun animals, but they are also a bit hard to understand. Your cat knows their names, and they can recognize them, but it’s possible that they just don’t see the need to answer or they are confused. It will be like teaching a kid to learn their names, it requires patience, repetitiveness, and positive reinforcement. Do not give up on your cat and understand its situation all the time.

We hope we have all the information and the answer to your question, ‘Do cats know their names?’. All in all, whether your cat knows its name or not, we are sure that it won’t affect your relationship with them at all as cats are usually ignoring their owners. Do not take that as an offense; cats are just being cats.