I don’t know about you, but my own cats are really good at ignoring me when I call their names. Some people have wondered if cats even know their own names or if they’re just responding to hearing you call out to them.
Unlike dogs, who will usually come running if you call their names, cats are just as likely to ignore you altogether–unless it’s wet food time. Ok, so if there is any mention of cat food in my home, at least one of my cats will magically appear every time.
So what’s up? Do cats know their own names?
Can Cats Recognize Their Own Names?
It was uncertain for a long time whether cats could understand their own names or not, but a recent study in Japan finally confirmed what many cat owners already suspected.
Yes, your cat knows its own name. In research led by Dr. Atsuko Saito at Sophia University, researchers concluded that kittens were more likely to respond to humans calling them by their given name than to something else.
In the paper published in the Scientific Reports journal, it reads, “Researchers have only recently begun to investigate cat’s ability to communicate with humans.”
Research Proves Cats Know Their Own Names
In the study, 78 cats were recruited from a number of households, and also from cat cafes around the country to figure out just how much they were able to understand when humans were speaking to them.
“Some owners insist their cats can recognize their own names and words related to food. Cats are sensitive to differences in human voice characteristics.”
The researchers used a method called habituation-dishabituation, which is used to determine if cats can discriminate from the words human use, including regular nouns, names of other cats and their own names.
Four different words were used by the researchers, who classified a response as a movement of the cat’s head, tail or ears. What they found out is that cats pretty much respond to everything, often with a declining interest–but they do perk up when they hear their own names.
“Among cats from ordinary households (…) showed a significant rebound in response to the subsequent presentation of their own names; these cats discriminated their own names from general nouns even when unfamiliar persons uttered them.
These results indicate that cats are able to discriminate their own names from other words,” said the study.
Cats Don’t Place a Lot of Meaning in Their Own Names, However
Even though cats are more likely to respond when they hear their own names, and they recognize the name being attached to them–it doesn’t really hold any special meaning to them, except for the possibility that they might get fed.
Yep. What cat owners have suspected all along is actually true. Cats associate you, and therefore the names you’ve given them–as a chance to get food. And food makes cats happy.
An independent researcher from the UK, Dr. Krisyn Vitale, agrees with the findings of the study, saying the results “make complete sense to me.” Even so, she emphasized that the names don’t hold a deep meaning to cats aside from the link to food.
In other words, while cats can absolutely recognize their own name, they care more about getting food than all of the thought you put into giving them their own special name.
“We conclude that cats can discriminate the content of human utterances based on phonemic differences.”