With all the excitement of getting a new cat, sometimes we leave selecting that perfect name to the last minute. After all, we want to meet our new friend and get to know her personality before bestowing a moniker that fits.
Full disclosure—naming pets has never been my strong suit. I hem and haw over the perfect name for days and always miss the mark, so in our house, the kids name the pets. This has produced some unexpected but fabulous results. Our beloved cat has been Snowman Picklebottoms since the day she came home. (Yes, she’s so loved that she got a first and a last name.)
If you find that you (like me) are having trouble coming up with the perfect name, we have some great tips from our resident pet behaviorist, Mikel Delgado, that will help you to select a name that reflects both your cat’s qualities and your creativity.
Why give a cat a name?
You may be wondering: is it important to give a cat a name at all?
According to Rover’s cat behavior expert Mikel Delgado, yes. Giving a cat (or any pet) a name recognizes the cat as an individual with unique qualities. Further, it helps us as owners identify with our pet and build a relationship with them.
This makes sense, right? As we develop relationships with everyone in our lives, people or pets, names help us to identify and connect with them. I can’t call Snowman Pickle-B without a smile. She embodies all the goofy characteristics her name suggests. So how does one go about capturing these individual and unique cat qualities with a name?
What types of names do cats respond to?
While you can name your cat anything you’d like, research shows that cats respond better to higher pitches and varied pitches, so consider how the name sounds.
Cats are also more likely to respond to shorter words for a reason: it gives a simple, clear message. They can process the word or the sound and begin to associate that sound with you trying to get their attention.
If you’ve already bestowed a longer name to your cat(guilty), a nickname or shortened name can work, too, as long as you use it consistently.
Do cats really recognize their names?
This question has been the topic of recent scientific research. As it turns out, yes, cats can be taught to respond to their name. According to PetMD, cats can learn to recognize the sounds of the human voice, which, over time, translates to many cats learning their names.
But they may still prefer to ignore you, which probably isn’t news to many cat lovers.
Since cats are famous for their independence and aloofness, sometimes it really is hard to determine if they’ve learned the name you spent so much time coming up with, if they are ignoring you, or if they truly haven’t caught on.
Want to give your cat’s name the best chance possible? Just like with dogs, food is a powerful motivator. According to Delgado, cats learn their names faster when properly incentivized. Which means it’s a good time to break out some kitty treats.
Tips for helping cats learn to recognize their names
A cat can learn her name well enough to come when called—as long as her owners are consistent with how they call her. This is where too many nicknames can cause confusion.
Start with a simple command, such as “come here” and use the cat’s name. You can also use a consistent sound, such as ringing a bell. I’ve done this before—it’s quite easy to condition a cat to come to a bell if their favorite food is involved.
You can also try a friendly gesture, such as gently reaching out your hand. The key, according to Delgado, is to associate the command with the treat. Say the command as you shake the treat bag, and eventually, the sound of the command will be enough for the cat to come when she is called.
Are there names to avoid?
While you’re free to give your cat any name you like, there may be some names to avoid. According to Delgado, we do not know whether specific names are harmful to cats. For instance, we don’t know if the name we give a cat affects our perception of them and therefore how we treat them.
However, she suggests not giving your cat a mean name or a name that implies they are dangerous. Experts give similar advice for naming dogs.
It’s very common for owners to opt for human names for their cats, with some of the most popular cat names of 2019 being Jack, Max, Lola, Zoe, Charlie, and Milo—which happens to look a lot like this year’s list of most popular baby names.
Can cats adjust to a new name?
If you’ve adopted your cat, chances are you have a new name in mind for your new roommate. Good news: pet behaviorists suggest that cats can adjust to a new name and that it’s not too difficult for them.
This is because cats respond more to the tone of our voices than the specific syllables of our words. Just like one (or maybe two) nicknames aren’t problematic, if you speak to your cat in an inviting and friendly voice, they will respond to the sound of your voice and then will learn the sounds of their new name.
Whether you go traditional (Lucy) or silly (Snowman Picklebottoms), you, more than anyone, are best positioned to pick that perfect name for your pet. The more you say it, the more you’ll associate it with your new family member. Eventually, you’ll love the name as much as you love your cat.
If you are still stuck, we have a whole library of great pet names to help you decide: