Do Cats Know Their Names?
I'm giving you 30 seconds to think of a clever name for a kitten - trust your instincts on this. Did you think of something reasonable? Probably not. Cats get silly names; those are the rules. You can't just name a cat "Steven," that wouldn't make sense. Cats are special and are called unique names to reflect that. But you know your cat's name (and so does anyone else who will listen), but does your cat know its name?
When you pop open a can of cat food, your cat will come running every time. Animals can associate certain noises/stimuli and react to them; that's just conditioning and is something they teach in your first psychology course. But if you're sitting on a couch and you call out to your cat in the other room, does your cat hear you, recognize that you're calling to them, and respond?
Does Your Cat Know Their Name?
Anecdotally, we can say that cats do recognize their given names. In our experience, Monsieur Fuzz-Fuzz will present himself from whichever table he's sleeping under when called. But Fluffy Persians is a cattery run by nerds, so we dug even deeper to find some studies that might confirm or deny the validity of our own experiences. A recent study(1) also agrees that cats can distinguish their names when spoken.
This study analyzed if cats could distinguish their names from other words of similar length and accent by seeing how the cats responded. The cats' responses were quantified based on specific behaviors; movement of the ears, head, tail, vocalization, and moving from one location to another. They even tested this with voices from people the cats were familiar with and the voices from strangers and found identical results.
The results of the test support that cats respond to their names. In their homes, cats seem to react to the first couple of words that sound very similar to their names. However, they soon seemed bored of these words and started ignoring them until they got to their actual names. As soon as they heard their names, the cats instinctively perked up and showed interest and intrigue. The study goes further to suggest that cats are capable of learning specific words as they have some capacity to communicate and connect with humans.
Although your cat can comprehend different noises and vocal cues (including their name), they may not react as you want them to. After all, it's just a cat, not a dog. But one essential thing to consider is that cats are notoriously independent animals and their responses are dependent on their motivation or preoccupation at a given moment. Is your cat playing with its favorite toy or in a deep sleep on a comfy chair? In these moments, your cat will most likely pick what they want over what you're telling them to do.
It's unlikely that cats have evolved to respond to human cues and will communicate with humans when they want. If your pet isn't responding to you, likely, you are just being ignored. Cat's are temperamental animals, after all, it's difficult to have them do what you want them to do. You can read about how we try to influence our cats to drink water in the best way possible in one of our other articles!
1: Saito, A., Shinozuka, K., Ito, Y. et al. Domestic cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words. Sci Rep 9, 5394 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-40616-4