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Pet Cats Know Their Fellow Cats’ Names, Study Shows

And some cats seem to know their peoples’ names too.

Key points

  • Previous research found that pet cats know their own names, so scientists investigated if they know the names of familiar cats and people.
  • The experiments tested how long cats look at photos that either match or don’t match the name they just heard.
  • Pet cats know the names of their fellow cats, but cats in cat cafés don’t.
  • Some pet cats—but not all—seem to know the names of the people they live with.

There’s been a lot of interest lately in the words that dogs know. We’ve seen that some dogs like Rico and Chaser and other “genius” dogs learn many words and that dogs like Stella can learn to press buttons in order to ‘talk.’ But it turns out that pet cats have interesting linguistic abilities too, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.

We already know that pet cats can recognize their own names. That research gave rise to an intriguing possibility: that they might know other cats' names. Now scientists in Japan have shown that pet cats recognize the names that people have given to other cats who live in the same home—and it seems that some may even know the names of their guardians.

This shows that cats are paying attention to what we say.

Saho Takagi of the Department of Psychology at Kyoto University, the first author of the research, told me,

Learning the names of other individuals does not provide much benefit to them. Nevertheless, the fact that they remember the names of other individuals means that they are listening to humans that carefully. By talking to them a lot, you and your cat will get to know each other better.

Kari Shea/Unsplash
Source: Kari Shea/Unsplash

The research involved two experiments in the homes of pet cats and cat cafés. Both experiments looked at something called an expectancy violation, whereby cats look for longer at pictures on a laptop when they know they don’t match the name that they hear at the same time. Of course, if the cat did not know the name, no such expectancy violation would occur.

Testing if Cats Know the Names of Other Cats

The pet cats who took part in the study lived in a home with at least three cats in total. In the first experiment, cats were held in front of a laptop. They first heard a recording of their guardian saying the name of one of their fellow cats. Then they were shown a photo of either that cat (the name matched) or one of their other fellow cats (the name didn’t match).

When the name and photo matched up, the cat only looked at the photo for a short time. When they had heard the name of a different cat, however—the incongruent condition—cats looked at the photo for longer.

Cats from cat cafés also took part, and they did not look for longer in the incongruent condition. This is not a surprise; previous research found that cats who live in cat cafés do not seem to know their own name, so you would not expect them to know other cats’ names. Since a lot of cats can live in the cafés (often over 30), they must hear different people calling different names a lot of the time. These conditions don’t seem so conducive to learning names.

Testing if Cats Know People’s Names

The second experiment used a similar method, except that this time they used the names and photos of people in the cats’ household. To match normal usage, they used the names people use in everyday life in the home, and they were spoken by someone else from the home.

The households were of different sizes ranging from two to five people. Not all cats showed an expectancy violation, meaning that only some cats knew whether the photo matched the name. But cats were more likely to show an expectancy violation if there were more people in the home (presumably meaning people used the names more often) and if the cat had lived in the home for longer (perhaps giving them more opportunities to learn).

How do cats learn names?

Being able to learn the names of other cats could be a type of social learning in which the cats have picked up the names from observing them in use. However, the current study did not investigate how cats learn their names, so this is a question for future research.

The cats in this study did not receive any training on cats’ or peoples’ names. The pet cats had lived in their home, along with the other resident cats and people, for at least six months.

The researchers say,

In summary, house cats matched at least their companion cats’ names and faces, and possibly their human family members’ names. This is the first evidence that domestic cats link human utterances and their social referents through everyday experiences.

This fascinating research adds to what we know about pet cats’ socio-cognitive abilities, which include being able to follow a person’s point or look to find food, knowing whether someone is paying attention to them or not, and recognizing their guardian’s voice.

Perhaps this research will lead to people talking to their cats more and even trying to teach them names and other words.

In any case, it shows that cats are far cleverer than many people think.


Takagi, S., Saito, A., Arahori, M., Chijiiwa, H., Koyasu, H., Nagasawa, M., Kikusui, T., Fujita, K. & Kuroshima, H. (2022). Cats learn the names of their friend cats in their daily lives. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 1-9.

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