I refuse to believe that I am the only pet parent out there that has called their cat’s names, only to be painfully ignored. Shouting their names to no avail really makes you think, do cats even know when they’re being called?
Well, studies from 2019 have the answer to this question and many more. Do cats know the name of the other cats they live with? Which names do they respond to best? Is there any point in giving them a well-thought-out name for them to only react to “cat?”
Let’s find out!
Can cats recognize their names?
Fluffy, Fluffy! Oh, here Fluffy! Don’t want to come, huh? Then I guess it’s time to break out the treats!
Does this situation sound similar? I know it does to me. I have three cats at home, two of which are Siamese, and I have often experienced calling them, only to be essentially left on read.
So, does your cat know its’ name?
A study was done in 2019 by a behavioral scientist in Japan, Atsuko Saito shows that yes, cats’ do know their names! The cold hard truth of the matter is they probably just choose to ignore us most of the time (ouch).
The name experiment
The University of Tokyo researchers took four experiments out on 78 cats to determine if they truly knew their names.
The first experiment was conducted on one cat household. Owners said four different words, sounding similar to their cats’ names, followed by their actual names.
The second experiment was with cats in multi-cat households and one or two cat cafes. The cats in question would hear other cats’ names in the house, followed by their own name.
The third experiment was with the cats from experiment two, hearing four words that sounded like their name and then their actual name.
And lastly, an experiment was conducted on cats from both single and multi-cat households, this time with a stranger calling the four words and the cats’ actual names.
Turns out cats respond pretty well to their names!
When calling four words that sounded similar to their names, initially, the cats did react. However, after a few rounds of this, the cats became bored and ignored their owners until their real names were called.
Once their actual names were called, the cats began to listen – twitching their ears, moving their heads, meowing, and sometimes getting up. Surprisingly, they responded not only to their owners but also to strangers calling their names. It was less than when called by their owners, but this shows that it’s not only their owner’s voice they recognize but their names too.
In multi-cat households, the cats used in the experiment would respond to their names, even after hearing the names of their feline buddies being called.
The cat cafe didn’t come back with many positive results, but that likely has more to do with the number of cats in the cafe and how many customers come and go each day.
What does a name mean to a cat?
While research shows that cats know when they’re being spoken to, do they actually link this sound to their identity?
During other experiments by Atsuko Saito, she discovered that cats tend to beg for treats when called by their name. Saito believes that cats recognize their name based on this discovery, but the response probably has more to do with getting cuddles or food in return.
Think about it this way: cats don’t get called their name by their friends or cat family, and they don’t have special kitty birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, or diplomas in their name. Names are, as far as we know, a human construct.
Saito believes that cats most likely don’t associate their name as part of their identity like humans do, but rather their name being called results in rewards. So, instead of hearing their name and thinking, “oh, you’re calling me!” they are most likely thinking about what they’ll get when you call their name.
So whether or not your Siamese knows their name is a name, they do know that it means something special.
Do Siamese cats know their owner’s voices?
As we read above, cats respond to their owners calling their names and to strangers. To test this theory out, Saito did another experiment on 20 cats (this woman must be a cat whisper at this point!) to find out if cats know their owners’ voices.
A voice recording was played for each cat of stranger’s voices, followed by their owner’s voice. Turns out, cats respond to any sort of human voice; their tails twitched, and they sometimes vocalized.
However, their response was quite different when their owner’s voice was played. This time their ears and heads moved towards the sound, using vocal cues to distinguish between humans.
This shows that cats do indeed know their human’s voices!
Do cats know the name of the other cats they live with?
Have you ever called one Siamese, only to have another appear? I know I’ve called Batman a handful of times, only to have Robyn wander through the door like he owns the place.
Cats can, in fact, distinguish their name from their housemates – whether they choose to respond to it or not is a whole other bucket of fish.
The reason for this could be a few things. Since cats associate names with rewards, they may be responding to their brother or sister’s name in an attempt to get something tasty out of it. It could also be down to pure jealousy – we’ll never really know the real reason as to why they do this.
Do cats respond to their names the way dogs do?
Ask a dog owner, and they’ll 100% say that their dog knows their name. My friend has about 30 pet names for her dog, and he responds to each and every one of them. So why is this?
Dogs were domesticated almost 20,000 years ago; that’s about 13,000 years before cats. In fact, even goats and sheep were domesticated before felines! So, when domesticating dogs, we tried our best to breed them into obeying and responding to us. Cats, on the other hand, we kind of left to it. As long as they kept the rats at bay, we left them to their own devices.
Still, we treat dogs differently from cats. We take them for walks, introduce them to new people and things, take them camping, basically include them in our everyday lives outside of the house. Even during obedience training, their name gets used over and over again. So for dogs, their name is a pretty big thing and goes further than simply relating the word to a reward.
It wasn’t till recent years that we began to keep our cats indoors more. Before, a majority of cats were allowed to come and go as they pleased, coming home when it was dinner time or when the weather outside wasn’t great.
These days, cats are spending more time inside, if not all. Therefore, they are becoming a lot more familiar with humans, which in time, will develop their social connection to use even deeper. There’s a high chance that future felines will better understand social cues and connections.
What names do cats respond to best?
Siamese cats respond best with names that are two syllables or less. To put it simply, don’t complicate things. My Siamese kitties are called Batman and Robyn (can you tell what my favorite movie is?), which are both simple and easy.
Come up with something that is simple to say. If you go with something along the lines of “Lord Squggletons,” you’re most likely going to get funny looks – and not just from your cat.
If you want to name your cat something long, it’s best to come up with a nickname. For example, if you like the name Pineapple, be prepared to call them Pine or Apple.
How do you call a Siamese cat?
So we’ve gathered that cats do know their name, but it’s up to them if they decide to respond to it or not. So, if you want your Siamese to come to you each time you call their name, there’s some training involved.
Thankfully, Siamese cats are smart little creatures, so it won’t be long until they’re running in as soon as they hear their name!
Step 1: Pick a reward
Your Siamese isn’t going to come to you unless they know they’re getting something out of it. Positive reinforcement such as petting and praise is always good, but this will probably be more successful if something tasty is involved.
If your Siamese has a favorite treat, you can use that. If not, tuna, sardines, and shredded chicken all go down a treat. Mix and match the treats; this way, they won’t expect to get the same thing each time they are called.
Keep these treats reserved for calling only. This way, your Siamese associates this specific reward with responding to your call and not any other social cues.
While catnip is all well and good, it’s probably not the best for this specific situation. Siamese cats can get bored of catnip easily if you continue to give it to them; go with something you know keeps them coming back for more.
Step 2: Choose a time to call your Siamese
The best time to practice calling your Siamese is around dinner time. This way, your Siamese will most likely be hungry, which will make the training faster and easier. Call your Siamese into a room where they are used to going for food, most likely the kitchen.
Your Siamese will most likely know when dinner time is approaching anyway (if you feed them on a schedule), so it won’t be something completely unfamiliar to them, which is helpful during the process.
If you decide to reward your Siamese with play instead, call them when it’s close to their scheduled playtime. If there are too many distractions in a particular room, consider calling them into somewhere quiet.
Step 3: Calling your Siamese
When you’re in the room where you want your Siamese to come, call their name in a high-pitched voice. If you’re calling them for dinner time, call their name before you open their food. This way, they will come due to your call and not because they hear the bag rattling or the can opening.
As soon as your Siamese comes to you, reward them immediately. This could be with a tasty treat or play. Even if you’re calling them for dinner, you should still reward them with a treat.
Be sure to give them lots of positive reinforcements also, like verbal praise and cuddles. It may take a few days or a few weeks for your Siamese to come to you consistently when they hear their name.
Step 4: Make it a challenge
Try upping up the difficulty level once you have your Siamese coming to you with every call. Practice calling your Siamese between two people. You and your partner should reward your Siamese with each successful call.
If your Siamese is allowed to go outside, practice calling them back when they are outside. Ensure you’re doing this when they are within hearing distance.
The best way to name your cat
Think about it this way; you’re going to be calling this name for about 15 years, so make it something special. There are millions of options out there, so take a look at these factors to ensure you pick the purrfect name for your Siamese.
1. Consider the names of others
If you’ve already got a Sam in your house, you don’t want to call your Siamese Pam. This will just confuse everyone in your house, both two and four-legged.
2. Don’t go too out of the box
While it may be hilarious to call your cat a funny or almost controversial name, remember that you’re going to have to use that name when registering them at the vet. It’s going to be called out loud, and less than proud in the waiting area, and your friends and family will also have to call them by this name.
3. Consider their personality
Both the personality and name of your Siamese make up their identity. So, considering your cat’s unique quirks can make them even more endearing. If your Siamese is shy, clumsy, or friendly, these are some traits you may want to keep in mind.
Since Siamese cats are clever, calling them Einstein or Sherlock would fit perfectly.
4. Consider their appearance
One of the most popular ways to name pets is after food. For example, if you have a creamy brown-colored cat, you could call them Toffee or Biscuit. If you have a Calico, calling them Patches would be a good fit, or Mittens if they have white paws.
Can I change my cat’s name?
Sure, there isn’t really anything stopping you from changing your cat’s name. If you’d like, you can change it every month; you just won’t get very positive results when calling them if you do so.
That being said, people don’t really change their cat’s name for the sake of it; it usually has something to do with growing a distaste for the name or disliking the name they came with.
If you’ve adopted a Siamese and you’re not fond of the name they came with, you should change their name immediately upon adoption. Your Siamese has so many things to get used to; a new home, a new routine, new people, new boundaries. Due to this, a new name will simply become part of that experience.
If your Siamese has come from an abusive household or bad situation, it is good to change their name. They likely associate that name with negative experiences, so it’s better to give them a fresh start, where that name results in lots of tasty treats and warm cuddles.
How to change a cat’s name
The good news is, if you decide to change your cat’s name for whatever reason, it is fairly simple to do so. The steps to learning their name are very similar to the steps above for calling your Siamese.
The learning process should be full of positive associations. Each time you call their name, reward them with a treat or play. If your Siamese is on a feeding schedule, call their name each time they are fed.
Only use their name with a friendly voice; avoid shouting or using a harsh tone as they can quickly associate their name with negative experiences.
How long until cats recognize their names?
The time it takes for a Siamese to learn their name depends on their age, personality, and whether or not they’re going to get something from responding to you.
Chances are, if you’ve had your Siamese for some time and call their name constantly, they know it. They’re most likely ignoring your calls because they feel like nothing substantial will come from responding (rude, I know.)
Start using positive reinforcements if you want your Siamese to respond to you when you call. Reward them with their favorite treat or half an hour’s play when they successfully respond to you. If you let them know that something is waiting for them, it could take mere weeks before they’re coming to you after every call!