There’s no doubt at all that cats are incredibly intelligent and, as part of our family, we love to think that they can understand what we’re saying when we talk to them – which of course, they can’t.
However, there's not a great deal known about what they can and can't understand due to their dismissive nature.
It's well known that dogs respond to their names and come to understand them reasonably easily. However, with cats, it's not quite so simple to tell if they recognize their name.
They are more independent pets and don't feel the need to please you. This means that, even if they did remember their name, they might not acknowledge you anyway.
A recent study by a psychologist at Sophia University in Tokyo found that they do understand their names. The study was conducted in cat cafes throughout Japan, using both the owner's voice and multiple strangers' voices to call to the cat.
Their responses showed that when their name is called, even by someone they aren’t familiar with, they may twitch their ears in that direction or turn their head. This means that cats do recognize their names on some level.
How Do You Train a Cat to Respond to its Name?
We all know that the most important thing to any cat is themselves. Cats are known to be fairly selfish and have a “what’s in it for them?” attitude.
To train your cat to respond to their name, you’ll need to learn to use this to your advantage. You should use your cat’s name as often as possible during the activities that they enjoy.
Eating is always top of that list, but you could also praise them when they’re playing with you or say it gently to them while they’re curled up asleep.
The positive association between the word and the activity will mean that your cat wants to respond to their name as it’s a positive experience.
Try not to shout their name when they've been bad. You'll undo all the good work you already did. If you call their name at them in an angry tone and punish them, they have no incentive to respond to that name next time around.
Of course, if the positive reinforcement method isn’t working, you could always resort to treating them. Providing a small treat to them every time they respond to their name will bribe them to respond more often.
However, unlike dogs, your cat is likely to stop this behavior once they learn that there’s no treat at the end of it anymore. If you want your cat to respond to their name, this method will work, but only in moderation.
How Long Does It Take for a Cat to Learn its Name?
The length of time that it’ll take your cat to learn and respond to their name will vary depending on the individual cat.
It can take anything from 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on how often you use their name and the reason you're using it. There are also a few other factors that can impact your cat learning their name quickly:
Certain breeds of cats are known for having higher intelligence levels. Abyssinian and Bengal cats are among the most intelligent breeds, and they're likely to be able to learn their name a little faster.
The time it takes will also depend on the age of your cat. Younger cats and kittens absorb information much more easily than mature adults.
This means that if you name your cat at an early age and ensure they hear the name regularly, they’re more likely to respond to their name out of habit.
Starting your cat on name recognition later in life is likely to have less of an effect. Mature cats (those of 10 years and older) are typically reaching their golden years and often can’t hear people shouting them anyway.
Their short-term memory at this age starts to become a little hazier too, reducing from the average 21 hours to around 10 hours. This makes it more difficult for your cat to remember their name if you've been away for a more extended period.
Cat memory is an interesting thing in general, if you leave a cat for a year, will they remember you? You can read more about that on The Animal Nut.
How to Find the Right Name for Your Cat
Obviously, cats don’t understand what we’re saying. However, they can pick up on tones and sounds and will remember them if the same sounds are used in the same order frequently.
In order to ensure your cat remembers their name, you need to make sure the sounds in that name are memorable and distinctive.
The perfect cat names to get them to listen to you are:
- Names that end in "ee." Names like fluffy (I know it’s a cliché), Minnie, or Queenie work really well.
- Names with two syllables. Long, drawn-out names sound more like a sentence to your cat, and they’ll zone out. On the other hand, names with a single syllable aren't as memorable to cats because the sound can appear too similar to other words. If you select a name with two syllables, this puts the two sounds together, and your cat will understand that when those two particular sounds are together, that means you’re speaking to them.
- Names with complex vowels (A, E, I). This is because the vowels are the most recognizable section of the word, and complex vowels jump out of a word. “O” and “U” are softer vowels that tend to get mixed with the consonants in a lot of words. This means that your cat can’t pick them out as easily.
- Names with hard consonants. Hard consonants follow the same principle as vowels. You'll need to select something that stands out. B, D, K, and T are all excellent examples.
If you’d like your cat to learn and start responding to their name as quickly as possible, then you’ll need a name that ticks all these boxes.
It’s unlikely that your cat will learn to recognize their name straight away but keep at it. The more time you and your cat spend trying to get them to learn their name, the better your bond will become.