General Question

girlofscience's avatar

How long does it takes cats to learn their names?

Asked by girlofscience (7550points) December 8th, 2008

I can’t even remember when my 2.5 year old learned her name, but she definitely knows it. It’s not just inflection either, because you can test her by saying a series of names, all in the same inflection, i.e., “Laura? Stephanie? Kelly? Ilsa?” and she won’t look at you until you say Ilsa. She also responds to Ilse, Ilsie, Ilsagirl, Ilsababy, and Ilsa Margaret when she’s in big trouble.

We’ve had our two kittens for almost 3 months now (they were five weeks when we took them in), and it seems they still don’t know their names (Nicolette and Alexandria). It was easy to teach Ilsa her name because she was the only one around, so there was no room for confusion, but I’m worried that Nicki and Alex are having trouble learning their names because they’re not realizing which is being called. Additionally, we use many nicknames for them (Nicolette, Nicki, Knick-knack, Nick, Nickigirl, Nickibaby, Nicolette Grace when in trouble; Alexandria, Alex, Allie, Alliecat, Alliegirl, Alliebaby, Alexandria Rose when in trouble).

Why haven’t they learned their names yet, and how can we reinforce their identities?

If it helps, here are their photos:
Ilsa Margaret
Nicolette Grace
Alexandria Rose

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25 Answers

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Your cats’ names are really long. My cat, Onslow, knows his name, an all of his many nicknames “Onsie” “Low-Low” “Lowey” and all of the other things we call him. However, it seems to me that it took about a year for him to figure out that he had a name.

donkhard's avatar

Cats don’t speak English.


dalepetrie's avatar

It’s funny, we adopted a new kitten ten days ago:

His web page

They gave him the name “Lawrence”. We don’t like the name, and being he’s only 4 months, we decided to change it to Oliver or “Ollie”.

He responds better to Ollie than he does to Lawrence already.

imhellokitty's avatar

The best names for cats (and dogs) are simple two syllable words. And how soon your pet learns it depends on how much you use it.

girlofscience's avatar

@dalepetrie: Very cute! I’m so glad you adopted from an animal rescue organization. :)

Do you consistently call him Ollie? Do you think we should switch to consistently calling them “Nicki” and “Alex” instead of all of the nicknames, until they learn the names?

Do you have other cats besides Ollie? I think they would be able to learn their names better if they were the only ones.

girlofscience's avatar

@donkhard: I know; Ilsa only spoke Russian when we found her, but she was able to learn her English (German) name, as well as simple English commands.

answerjill's avatar

Maybe they had other names before you took them in and now they are used to those names?

girlofscience's avatar

@answerjill: No, I got them from a dumpster.

EmpressPixie's avatar

No idea, but they are super cute!

poofandmook's avatar

I’m not totally sure my cats know their names. I think Mookie does, but moreso I think she knows “Mook” since that’s part of most of her nicknames (Mook, Mookiedook, Mookington). But Bo definitely doesn’t know her real name. We always call her Poof, Poofy, PoofyPouf (Pouf = “powf”). She knows those, but not her real name, Bo.

girlofscience's avatar

@EmpressPixie: Thank you!!! I am a very proud Mommy.

dalepetrie's avatar

Yes, Ollie is a very sweet and very cute little guy (and EXTREMELY affectionate).

Of course, we adopt from a shelter, we don’t believe in buying pets from pet stores. We either get cats from private parties, or adopt them when they are homeless.

We have 3 other cats, all female…Ollie is indeed our only male cat, and the only male cat my wife has ever had (I grew up in the country, and probably had 100 different cats over the years, some of each). Our oldest, Jade is 12 and we adopted her when my wife worked at an animal hospital and someone had found her wandering in the middle of a busy street. Jade is presumably a mutt, but she is almost certainly at least half (if not more) Maine Coon. The other two, Keeley and Scout, both females, we actually bought from a private party, and the only reason we laid money out to a private party is that a) they were purebread Birmans, and b) the owner had put a lot of money into them via spay/declaw (the later we refuse to do), vaccines, and other care, and c) what she was asking for an adoption fee was far less than half the expense of taking in 2 stray kittens and getting them all their medical necessities taken care of.

I am not at all consistent with cat names. My only rule is, if a cat’s older when you adopt it, don’t change its name. Younger is OK, they haven’t quite learned it and set it in stone just yet, the people who found Jade named her something like Pasha-Polemi, and we said, uh uh, that’s too f’ing weird, her name’s Jade…she was only 3 or 4 months when we got her. We’re not the biggest on Keeley or Scout…Keeley is OK, but Scout strikes us as a boy’s name, but they were over a year old when we got them and I said no changing their names.

As for what we call them, I’ve called Oliver…Oliver, Ollie, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Ollie Marie (an inside joke, having always had girl kitties, we always give them the middle name Marie), Oliver Toliver, Kitty-Kitty, Mohamed Ollie, Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, Ollie Baba and a couple others that don’t readily come to mind.

All our cats usually end up with about a thousand nicknames, because at the end of the day, really if the cat wants to come to you, it will come to you, if it doesn’t, it won’t, and really you could call the cat anything you want as long as you use the right inflection…it’s more how the word sounds than what the word is that gets their attention in my experience.

tocutetolive90's avatar

It depends on the cat. some cats can learn there names, but others cant

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Not so, Donkhard. Animals do learn an average of 50 words and/or phrases in their lifetime, in whatever language they are exposed to.

Jeruba's avatar

I think they may have learned their names readily enough. But they are cats. They may not feel like letting on.

Jeruba's avatar

Afterthought: they will let on and make the connection when it is in their interest to do so. For instance, if your two youngsters don’t go outdoors yet, they may show interest in their names when you start calling them in. If you associate their names with mealtime, they have a motivation for responding with recognition.

But the fact that there are two together does have a countering effect. I had a matched pair for about 16 years who, I think, never learned their separate names, although they both answered to “kitty” or “KK” (kitty cat…sorry); but our last cat always knew when he was being called by name for dinner.

girlofscience's avatar

@Jeruba: Interesting. They will never go outside, but the mealtime idea is a good one.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

When I was a girl, we had a big yellow Maine Coon cat named Elvis. He would be sleeping peacefully on the couch, while my mother, sisters and I would be chatting away about anything and everything. Then one of us would casually say “well, it’s time to put Elvis out.” He would squeeze his eyes shut, curl up into a tighter ball to try to make himself scarce, and pin back his ears. He knew what we were saying.

Darwin's avatar

One thing that helps is anytime you are doing something nice for a particular kitten, use its name in a sweet voice. For example, if Alexandria is in your lap and you are petting her, then keep saying her name along with phrases such as good kitty. While your cats may never think of the names you have given them as “names” they will begin to associate good things with certain syllables and they generally figure out which syllables refer to them.

In fact, if your saying the name is always coupled with something good, you will discover that your cats will indeed come when you call. They are “trainable” as long as they can perceive that there is something good in it for them.

I would suggest, however, that you use a two-syllable nickname that doesn’t sound like anyone elses’ as it will be easier for each cat to pick out her personal sound. I also strongly recommend that you never use their names when you are cornering them for a ride to the vet. That will make them think twice before coming to you when you call them by name.

90s_kid's avatar

i have a cat and it is very smart. Its name is Shakira (born in 2000 before the singer) and she learned her name quick. As a matter of fact, she knows nicknames like “Shokki” and “kira” and you can almost talk to her. Ill say “shakira come down for dinner!!” shell be there.

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90s_kid's avatar

ROFL nono lol my cat can’t talk to me!!! im just saying she can meow if she wants to go outside of something….some people really take things the wrong way

Jeruba's avatar

> I also strongly recommend that you never use their names when you are cornering them for a ride to the vet.

Totally agree.

Cornering for trips to the vet have been fairly easy for me since I learned the towel trick: drop an old (designated for cats) towel over his head and then scoop him gently but very fast into the waiting carrier. Towel goes in too (good idea for a number of reasons). Hardly any fight.

But don’t let ‘em see when you get the carrier out. Any self-respecting cat, and an outdoor cat especially, quaffs an invisibility potion on the spot.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Very southern, the double named cats. I have Zelda Louise, Stewart Kensington. Mr. Hinkley (he’s too formal to allow us to call him by his first name.)

Zuma's avatar

They learn very quickly when food is involved.

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