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How To Teach Your Cat Her Name

January 27, 2013

The other day I was chatting with a friend who is considering adopting a cat. I sent him a few links of cats available at my local shelter, and after commenting one of them, he asked, “Could I change his name?”

Photo courtesy minusequalsplus

It was a question I hadn’t expected, and told him of course – that both Ellie and CG had different names when I adopted them, and I don’t think it’s uncommon for adopters to change their pets’ names.

But, if you do decide to change it, there’s always that one big question: Will your cat learn it?

I’ve met some folks who say it doesn’t matter. I even heard a story of one woman who never named her cat, because she said that cats don’t answer to their names.

Well, that may be true that some won’t always answer you when you call, but cats are quite intelligent and can quickly learn.

Some suggest teaching your cat his name much like you’d train a dog a treat. Here are a few tips:

Keep treats in your pocket so you can give them out each time your cat responds to his name – like if he comes when he’s called. Eventually you can scale back the treats and simply praise and pet your cat when he arrives.

But how do you get to that point? Make an effort to use your cat’s name as much, and as naturally, as possible around him. If he’s on the other side of the room, for example, hold out a treat to him, and say his name. He should smell the treat, which will be the reason why he comes over, but repeating his name may help him make the connection.

Similarly, call your cat’s name as you prepare his food. Two sounds can almost guarantee your cat to come your way: The sound of kibble filling a bowl and the pop of a can’s top being snapped off. OK, make that three: The sound of treats shaking in their container. Make that noise, call your name, and repeat if possible.

The idea behind all of these suggestions is to establish a positive connection between you and your cat. When you say his name, you want him to come not because he’ll get a treat or food, but because his reward is spending time with you and receiving affection.

You can reinforce his knowing his name by saying his name at other times throughout the day too. For example, if I walk into a room and see CG, I’ll say “Hi, CG!” You can also say your pet’s name while you’re playing with him to get his attention. Perhaps also say your cat’s name soothingly when he’s sitting on your lap.

But, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your cat simply may not care about his name. Cats can be tremendously independent, so don’t take it too personally.

You may also be unknowingly doing something that may make it more difficult for your cat to learn his name. For example:

  • Photo courtesy T045TBR0T

    Does your cat’s name rhyme with something you say often? This may discourage your pet as he can’t figure out exactly what you’re saying.

  • Don’t shout your cat’s name if he misbehaves, as he’ll start to associate his name with negative attention.
  • I know this is a hard one, but try to say your cat’s name in the same tone of voice if possible. Cats have great hearing and respond to variations in tones.
  • Nicknames may confuse your cat.

That said, some cats, especially older ones, may know their names better than young ones. Of course if that is the case, then you may want to keep your cat’s original name (especially if it was a house cat who likely knew his name, vs. a former stray who may have never learned his name).

Another thing to keep in mind: Younger cats may be easier to teach since they’ll be more inclined to receive a reward. An older cat may not be as interested.

If you’re at a loss trying to come up for a name for your feline friend, check out some of the most popular names for adoptable CH kitties. You’ll never know when one will stick!

Does your cat know his name? Did you intentionally try to teach him his name? Please share your stories in the comments!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2013 7:32 am

    I’ve had hundreds of cats over my lifetime and they have all known their names.I could always walk into a room full of kitties, call to one and that kitty would respond. My trick? I always say their names over and over while I am petting them. That has always worked for me. The food thing doesn’t work, because when I open the cans they ALL come running : ))

    Ziggy was over a year old when he came to us, so we kept his name. That boy didn’t need ANY more confusion!

    Luna Süna and Spike were only eight weeks old, so they started out as Bernice (they thought Spike was a girl) and Gatsby. I think they like Luna and Spike better : ))

    Tardy came to me at eight weeks old also with that name, and I liked it so I kept it, but I added the Peebucket, Tardy Peebucket, my prince.

  2. natsera permalink
    January 28, 2013 1:11 pm

    My very first cat knew his name. But the funny part was that the second one, who was brain-damaged (not CH — this was from an injury caused by a tomcat getting into her owner’s house, kidnapping her from the kitten box and dropping her from the roof onto a cement driveway), ALSO learned to respond to the first cat’s name. So after he died, I could still call out his name and she would come! She may have had some deficits, but I think her intelligence was intact.

    At this point, I have seven cats, including Dimity Jane, the one with mild CH, and so I don’t think they could learn their names, although they have all learned “come on” which means for them to get out of the place they are.

    And the good news is that Dimity has learned to jump! Not as gracefully as a non-CH cat, and at a later age, and she doesn’t quite make her target more often than not, but what it means to me is that she is still developing, and she is really not going to be disabled, just a bit clumsy. Well, I am, too! 🙂

  3. January 31, 2013 10:17 am

    In November, our family adopted an 8 year old male cat from a wonderful no kill cat sanctuary. Our angel boy is a medium hair pure white cat with beautiful blue eyes and a tiger stipe gray tail. He is quite handsome and very unique with the excetption of his shelter name, Sapphire. We can wishfully think of the many more romantic names for him, but we must keep Sapphire as he responds to his name like a dog.

  4. Mari permalink
    February 17, 2013 3:14 pm

    My CH Maggie and her ‘normal’ brother Manny definitely know their names and also several of their nicknames (Maggie Mae, Maggety Ann, Manifred). They (esp. Maggie) will also let us know if she does not like a certain nickname. I called her Maggety Waggety one particularly wobbly day and she just glared at me, turned her back and STOMPED away from me. Wouldn’t come until I apologized! I didn’t intentionally teach them their names, but I have hand-raised them from 7 days old, and just always called them by name. They will not respond to the general ‘kitty, kitty’ I use on the farm cats. And the farm cats will lay right there and ignore me when I call Maggie and Manny. So it works out well.

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