If you've ever adopted a cat you may have found yourself in this scenario: you've found your feline companion who is the perfect fit for you and your home, only the name the rescue has given it is not anything to get too excited about. Because adopting a companion animal is a long-term commitment, you'll likely want to refer to your new friend by a name that suits him and is also one that you like. So, if your cat came with a bad name, can you change it? Will that just confuse the cat, or does he even what you're saying in the first place?
Do cats know their names?
The unsatisfying answer to this question is… possibly. Cats have been reported to understand the sound of their owner's voices, which could be what some of them are responding to. While cats have been seen exhibiting behaviors that suggest that they can hear their owners speak, like twitching their ears, turning their heads, or moving their tails, there's no real way to know if it's their specific name that they're recognizing, or just the voice of the person they know best. Some cats, however, do come when called by those outside of their immediate adopted family, like a pet sitter or neighbor, so the outcome will vary from cat to cat depending on whether they've been trained to learn their name.
That said, you can certainly train your cat to respond to the sound of their name just as you would a dog. For people who verbally communicate with their cats often, building this bond can become an important part of the relationship they will share for years to come, and often results in a more engaged cat.
Can I change my cat’s name?
To put it simply, yes, you certainly can change your cat's name if you wish, as there's nothing that is technically preventing you from doing so. You could even change your cat's name every month if you like — no one is going to stop you, although you may not get the most interested reactions from your feline friend each time you call it by a name it hasn't had time to learn. That said, most people don't change the name of their pets just for the sake of it. Chances are if you're considering changing your cat's name it's because you either don't like the name she came with.
Pet adoption site Petfinder assures new pet owners that if you are going to change the name of your newfound friend, immediately upon adoption is the best time to do so. With so much to learn, like a new routine, new boundaries with new people, and an entirely different environment, learning a new name can end up being part of the experience, and will likely not confuse them. Some people believe that animals that have come from a previously bad situation, like an abusive or neglectful household, can actually benefit from being given a new name. For some, a new name can signify a truly fresh start, leaving everything about their old life, and the negative associations that may come with it, in the past.
How to change your cat’s name
If you are going to change your cat's name, the good news is that it's fairly easy — in fact, the process is really no different than teaching your cat her name as a kitten. Even if your cat doesn't have a rough past, or if you feel like she simply outgrew the name you gave her years ago, renaming your cat can be done. Learning a new thing is all about positive associations, so one way to train your cat to respond to her new name is to offer her a treat each time you say it, at least until she gets the hang of it, says Purina. Cats will often only pay attention when you have something they need, so if you have your cat on a feeding schedule, you can try calling her name before you set her meals down as well. Be sure to use a calm and friendly voice when referring to your cat by her new name, and resist the urge to shout it or use it to scold her if she does something wrong, which can cause her to associate the word with negative emotions.