Does Your Cat Know Your Name? Study Says Maybe

I’m pretty sure Buddy does not know my name, and why should he?

He doesn’t hear my name spoken often, and in his mind I’m probably “Big Dumb Benevolent Human And Butler,” or BDBHAB. That’s a mouthful, even in meow, thus the much easier-to-say “Big Buddy.”

But a new study from Japan claims cats “possibly” know the names of their humans.

First, the parameters of the study would have eliminated the Buddies from the start: the research team from Kyoto University enlisted only cats who lived with at least two other felines. This is because they also wanted to find out if cats knew the names of their furry roommates as well.

The 48 cats who participated in the study lived in regular homes or cat cafes. The team played a recording of their human calling the name of one of their buddies, while a monitor showed an image of a cat. Sometimes the names and the images matched, and sometimes they didn’t.

The cats took longer looks at the images when the feline image shown didn’t match the name they heard, which the researchers said was indicative of surprise.

Separately, 26 cats were run through a similar experiment. In that scenario, the researchers played an audio clip of the cat’s human’s name and showed an image of either the human caretaker, or a cat. Like they did with the first experiment, cats looked longer when the images didn’t match the names, expressing apparent puzzlement.

What's your name, dude?
“I’m a Buddy, you’re a Buddy. We’re all Buddies.”

In case you’re wondering, it does seem to matter if a cat grows up in a home rather than a cat cafe. When the name and face matched, researchers called that a “congruent condition.”

“Half of the trials were in a congruent condition where the name and face matched, and half were in an incongruent (mismatch) condition,” they wrote. “Results of Exp.1 showed that household cats paid attention to the monitor for longer in the incongruent condition, suggesting an expectancy violation effect; however, café cats did not.”

The reasons are fairly straightforward. In a home setting, cats almost always interact with their human family members, while felines in cafes interact with different employees on different shifts, and with customers, who might be regulars or strangers. Either way, the cats living in homes are much more likely to hear their own names and the names of their feline roommates.

“The latter probably have more opportunities to observe interactions between the owner and each of the other cohabitating cats, which might facilitate learning of the face–name relationship,” the team wrote.

The Kyoto team pointed out that many wild animals, particularly mammals and birds, make sounds that correspond to animals, objects or abstract ideas. Monkeys and birds, for example, use a range of different calls to communicate to each other when they’ve found food or spotted a predator heading their way.

The stakes are much lower in a home setting, but evolutionary traits can still serve cats and dogs well. One reason pets may be keen to recognize the names of their furry roommates, the research team speculated, is competition. After all, Socks would want to know if Oreo is getting more treats or head scritches.

11 thoughts on “Does Your Cat Know Your Name? Study Says Maybe”

  1. Frank thinks the researchers are barking up the wrong tree (so to speak):
    “Why should we care what the servers call themselves – they should be researching treats! After all, these are Japanese researchers – the noble people who brought the world sushi (ah, that delicious salmon!). Maybe focus on something really important, like what a cat has to say to make them dish up a little sashimi!”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. OMC! Mee been callin you Buddy ‘Big Buddy’….butt hee iss yore PawPaw!! Mee apawlogizess! Mee feelss a bit sheeeepish, mew mew mew….
    Mee can meow to you mee knowss mee name BellaDharma an Bella an Baby Girl iss mee nickyname.
    As fore BellaSita Mum…mee not quite sure what her name iss?!?
    Mee herd one Aunty call her Chair….no wait that can not bee rite…umm Cher?! An alot of othe raunty’ss an peepss call her Sweeite! Iss that even a name? Mee will go ask her her rite name Buddy!
    An Big Buddy again mee iss sorry mee gotted yore name wrong……
    ***purrss*** BellaDharma

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yeah it can be confusing. Buddy, aka Little Buddy, is the cat, while Big Buddy is me, the human. Little Buddy and Big Buddy. The Buddies. When I adopted the little guy and he was just a kitten, I didn’t know what to name him, so I called him buddy and bud temporarily.

      After about two weeks I still hadn’t come up with a name, and Buddy seemed like a natural fit, especially because family and friends were starting to think it was weird that I’d had him for two weeks and he still didn’t have a name.

      But I think it’s good to wait until you really know your cat’s or kitten’s personality before giving them a name. I’m sure Bella fits her and no other name would seem right.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mee was all reddy named Bella when mee was a kitt inn ferst furamillee. When BellaSita Mum rescued mee shee added “Dharma” inn memoree of ‘angel’ Purrince Siddhartha mee Unkell. His short name was Dharth….
        So that iss part of THE meenin of mee name. THE werd “Dharma” meenss “Rite Thott; Rite Inntent an Rite Ackshun”….kewl rite??
        You see Unkell was helped to Purr Land august of 2018 as hee was furry unwell. An beefore hee leeved BellaStia purromsied him shee wuud adopt mee! They had followed mee on Sheltur website an saw how mee wuud get ‘dopted an brott back inn a cuppell of weekss each time.
        So mee iss livin THE life Unkell Siddhartha shuud ahve had butt cuud not….iss sorta bittersweet story rite Big Buddy an Buddy CAt?
        An Buddy iss a FINE name fore a man cat!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A beautiful name in honor of your predecessor cat. Buddy’s my first cat and my first pet ever, since I was not allowed to have pets as a kid, but some of his first toys belonged to Squish, a friend’s cat who had died shortly before I adopted Buddy. Poor Squish couldn’t move with my friend to the UK without extended time in quarantine, so he left her with his mom in our hometown, where she lived her last years.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. What a bittersweet story Big Buddy! It iss sad Squish stayed beehind….butt guud shee had a guud life with her Granny!
        An it iss nice Buddy has Squish’ss toyss….
        Mee has a few toyss of ‘angelss’ Aunty’ss Mingflower an NYLABLUE an Unkell Purrince Siddhartha Henry……An mee has Unkell’ss battery operated lite an BellaSita Mum putss it on efurry nite fore im an mee!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My cats know their names … even if they don’t respond when I call. See, they’ve chosen secret names for themselves. “Destroyer of worlds” is a lot more awe inspiring than Vincent …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been ordering cases of turkey since the supply chain problems have made it difficult to get it from local stores. I still feed Bud a variety — chicken, salmon, tuna, etc — but he basically gets turkey every other meal now, and he’s in his glory. 🙂

      In fact I ran out of the other food late last month and fed him nothing but turkey for two or three days. Not a single meow of complaint and he cleaned his bowls of every morsel. I still think it’s important to mix it up, but it’s crazy how much he loves his turkey.

      Liked by 2 people

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