Can I change my cat's name?: Tabby cat sitting on the stairs

Teaching your cat to come when called can help strengthen the bond you have with them. 

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Can I change my adopted cat's name?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

Have you found the perfect feline friend for your family, but feel their current name just doesn't suit them? Here's all you need to know about changing your pet's name.

There's nothing quite like the joy of finding the right cat for your family. But what are your options if their name doesn't seem to suit them? 

Can you change your cat's name without causing upset or distress? 

Do cats know their names? 

Notoriously willing to suit themselves, cats can make it difficult for us humans to work out whether they actually know their own name. 

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is that... they may do. Some cats respond to their name with an ear twitch or a turning head, while others will run straight to you when called. Essentially, whether or not your cat knows their own name will depend very much on the training they've had in the past. 

Is it a good idea to change my cat's name after adoption? 

Whether or not you decide to change your cat's name after adoption is an entirely personal decision

Age can be an important consideration when it comes to changing a name. If your cat has spent a decade in a home, and came into rescue following the death of their owner, for example, a name change may be confusing for an already bewildered kitty. 

In some cases, a new name can signal a fresh start for the cat or kitten in question, particularly if their original name was associated with feelings of fear in a previous home. 

If you are adopting a kitten, the chances are they won't yet know their name. Shelter staff will not typically have the time to teach cats their names, meaning the transition process will be simpler and less stressful for your feline friend. 

Why do shelters give cats names? 

Cats and kittens in rescue will usually be given a name by the shelter staff on arriving at the centre. 

Having a name plays an important part in creating a sense of identity for each cat while they wait to find their family. It helps rescue workers care for each animal, as they know exactly who to refer to, and it plays an important part in creating write-ups that tell potential adopters the cat's story. 

Does this mean you have to keep the name the shelter chose for your new pet? 

Absolutely not. It's perfectly possible to change a cat's name, but there are important tips and tricks to help make the process as smooth as possible. 

How can I teach my cat a new name? 

Once you've found the perfect name for your four-legged friend, you'll need to get to work quickly. Immediately after adoption is the best time for any name changes, as your cat will already be adjusting to a new routine and new people. 

To teach your cat their new name, it's important to build positive associations. Once you've found a tasty treat your pet loves, you can start by calling their name and rewarding them. Repeat this over multiple sessions. After some time, you will see your cat's attention becomes heightened when they hear their name, which is a good sign the process is moving in the right direction. 

Tips and tricks for you to try 

1. Pair two names when you first begin the process, to speed up their recognition of the new name. For example, if your cat knows their old name as Gucci, and they are now going to be Gizmo, you can use both names to begin with. They will be Gucci-Gizmo for the first few tries, and you can then drop their old name as they build an association to the new one. 

2. Give them time, particularly if they are an older cat or seem stressed in their new environment. If they had their old name for many years, a sudden change could feel quite unsettling. If they seem nervous and unsure of their surroundings, they may need some time to build confidence before they're ready for any training. 

3. Consistency is key when it comes to getting your cat used to their new name. Practice calling to them in various scenarios, and always have a treat to hand to reward their attention immediately. 

Cats are very intelligent, and they can respond brilliantly to training with repetition and patience. Nothing quite compares to the joy of pet adoption, and it's important not to be put off the perfect companion just because you don't like their name. A change is always possible, and teaching your cat to come when called will go a long way in building the bond you share with your feline friend. 

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