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Can I change my adopted cat’s name?

Can I change my adopted cat’s name?


cat with Monster Cheese Wedge

If you’re looking to adopt a cat in Austin, Texas, chances are you’ll visit Austin Pets Alive!, the no-kill shelter that has helped turn its hometown into the largest and longest-running no-kill city in the nation.[1]


Chances are you’ll also come home with a cat with a really weird name. I checked the website today, and Horton the Elephant, Yours Truly, Praying Mantis, Rose Colored Lens, Nathan Saves Summer, and Polyphemus are among the many oddly-named kitties looking for homes.


You’re probably going to want to change that name. But can you? Is it OK to change your cat’s name?


The short answer is yes, you absolutely can change your cat’s name. Don’t feel bad about it either. I explain why below.


A quick word on weird shelter names


Austin Pets Alive! has a method to their madness. Weird pet names bring media attention to the shelter, and by extension, draw potential adopters in through the door.[2]


Kooky names are also practical when you’ve adopted out 110,000 pets and counting, like Austin Pets Alive! It’s easy to confuse one Angel or Tigger with another. But there’s only ever going to be one Mom’s Avocado Fridge.


(P.S. Most of the photos in this post were taken at Austin Pet’s Alive! with Cat in the Box products.)


Do cats even know their own names?


cat with Mega Milk Carton

Research conducted by Atsuko Saito, a behavioral scientist from Sophia University in Tokyo, shows that cats definitely know their own names.


Saito tested name recognition on 78 individual cats in their homes and in cat cafés in Japan. She and her colleagues repeated words that were similar to each cat’s name until the cat lost interest, and then had the cat’s guardian or a stranger say the actual name.


If the cat perked up upon hearing his name, by meowing, turning his head, or even swishing his tail, researchers assumed it was because the cat recognized his own name.[3]


You can read all the details about it in this post, “Do cats know their own names?”


By the way, just because a cat knows her own name, doesn’t mean she’ll come when called. In this same experiment, fewer than 10% of cats got up and moved toward the person calling them.


They’re still cats.


Do cats care about their names?


cat with names in thought bubbles

If you are a human, you most likely communicate with words. The average person has an active vocabulary of around 20,000 words.[4] It’s true we communicate with body language, too – if you’ve ever raised a teenager, you’re probably familiar with the eyeroll – but most of what we have to say, we say with words.


Our own personal words – our names – mean a lot to us. Our names are deeply tied to our sense of self and place in the world. Our names reflect the community we live in, the family we come from, our culture, and personal histories. Research shows that our names may even shape who we become, from the way we behave, to the careers that we choose.[5]


Cats communicate with scent, not sound


cat with Monster Cheese Wedge

Cats, on the other hand, don’t communicate with spoken language. Cats communicate mostly with scent (with a little body language thrown in).


Cats are scent machines. They manufacture and deliver scent through glands located all over their bodies: their chins, ears, forehead, cheeks, tails, backs, anuses, and paw pads.


So many of their behaviors, from scratching furniture, to rubbing their heads on things, to sticking their backsides in our faces, and spraying the walls with urine, have everything to do with distributing or sharing scent.


Cats are also amazing scent recipients. Cats have 45 to 80 million (and possibly up to 200 million) scent receptors in their nasal cavities, compared to our measly 5 million.[6] Cats were designed to sniff things.


(Read, "Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?")


A cat’s “name” is his scent


A mother cat might not name her children, so much as memorize their individual scents.


cat in Mega Milk Carton

In one experiment, a mama cat was presented with Q-tips, that had been rubbed all over her own kittens, and one that had been rubbed on a kitten who belonged to another cat. Like a game of “which one of these is not like the others?” the mother cat spent more time sniffing the Q-tip that had been rubbed on the other mother’s kitten.


Other research shows that cats recognize other cats they know, even those they haven’t seen in a while, by scent.


In a similar Q-tip experiment, kittens of various ages were allowed to choose between the scent of their mothers or an unknown cat. By the time the babies were six months old, kittens were more interested in their mother’s scent. They were tested again at a year, and they clearly remembered the smell of their moms.[7]


What does a cat’s name mean to a cat?


Because our own names mean so much to us, it’s hard to imagine that cats may feel differently, especially if they seem to respond to their names.


If you call your cat to breakfast every morning, and he comes running, it’s going to feel to you like your cat’s name is very important to him.


But breakfast is probably what’s important to him.


If, instead of calling his name, you started calling out the name of the thing being served (“Hey! Purina ONE, c’mon!” or “Fancy Feast! Come and get it!”), he’d quickly learn to respond to that.


Cats are S-M-A-R-T.


Cats probably know we’re talking about them


cat in Mega Milk Carton

We can’t know what cats are thinking, but based on what we know about their behavior, we can infer that most cats, especially those who live indoors with us, know that their names mean they’re being addressed.


If a cat is raised in a loving household, she probably knows that something good happens to her when she hears her human say a particular word. “Snowball!” might mean to her that she’s about to get a treat, or a pet, or be let into the catio, for example.


But just because she knows to pay attention when she hears her name, doesn’t mean she has an emotional connection to it.


Is it ever too late to change a cat’s name?


The cats at Austin Pets Alive! with the crazy names most likely arrived to the shelter anonymously.


But what about cats with a known name, who’ve had the name for years? Is it ever too late to change a cat’s name?


Consider that just because a cat knows his own name, doesn’t mean he enjoys positive associations with it. A cat with abuse in his history would likely benefit from a name change. Even cats need a clean slate sometimes.


But what about older cats with a known background, say, a well-loved cat whose owner has passed?


That's actually a question for you, not your new cat. Would it be more convenient to keep a name the cat already knows? If so, then keep it, but don’t feel that you have to. The name doesn't have that deep meaning for her that your name does to you.


How should I teach my cat her new name?


Google this question and you’ll get lots of helpful suggestions, including choosing a new name that sounds similar to the old name (changing “Kitty” to “Katy,” for example), or transitioning slowly, using an intermediary name that is some combination of the old and new names (“Come here, Stella-Sassy.”)


There’s even advice about training a cat to learn his new name, by deliberately stating the new name a number of times and offering a treat each time.


There’s nothing wrong with any of these methods, unless you voice your cat’s new name so many times that she simply starts to ignore it.


But they’re not necessary.


Cats are quick to figure out what’s important to them and how to get it. If you spend time with your cat, and play with your cat, and groom and pet your cat, using his new name naturally, he will learn it.


Yes, he may stick his tail in the air, and pointedly walk away from you when you call him, but that most certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his name.


If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

Should I put a collar on my cat?

How do I know if my cat is happy?

How to introduce a new cat to your cat

Do cats remember people?


Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

can i change my adopted cat's name? - pinterest-friendly pin 


DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.




[1] “Our Impact.” Austin Pets Alive!,


[2] Grinevičius, Jonas. “Someone Notices the Staff at This Animal Shelter Is Giving Rescue Cats the Most Epic Names.” Bored Panda, Bored Panda, 22 May 2022,


[3] Saito, Atsuko, et al. “Domestic Cats ( Felis Catus ) Discriminate Their Names from Other Words.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 4 Apr. 2019,


[4] Huld, Nickee Leon. “How Many Words Does the Average Person Know? - Word Counter.” - Word Counter, Wasai, 11 July 2022,


[5] Hedrick, Michael. “How Our Names Shape Our Identity.” The Week, The Week, 8 Jan. 2015,


[6] Llera, Ryan, and Lynn Buzhardt. “Why cats sniff rear ends.” Vca


[7] Szenczi, Peter, et al. “Are You My Mummy? Long-Term Olfactory Memory of Mother's Body Odour by Offspring in the Domestic Cat - Animal Cognition.” SpringerLink, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 26 July 2021,


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