Names that get your cat's attention
August 12, 2018 4:50 AM   Subscribe

The team at Vancouver East Veterinary are back with scientific advice for Cat Names That Get Your Cat's Attention. Dr. Uri Burstyn & Vancouver East Veterinary previously on MeFi. (Cat naming is a popular topic on AskMeFi.)
posted by wheek wheek wheek (41 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's a lost cat :( sign at the end of my block right now that has a picture of the cat and "se llama Ni-Ni o Bi-Bi."

These are people who have clearly let their cat name itself, and I appreciate that.
posted by phunniemee at 5:08 AM on August 12, 2018 [17 favorites]


Lancelot clearly doens't give a fork, just keep stroking me human...
posted by Pendragon at 5:35 AM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


My cats clearly either recognise their names, or the tone of voice I use when I call them. What they don't always do is give a fuck. Their names don't end high-pitched (Bridget and Eamon) but I do go up an octave when calling them and that seems good enough.

I do have a specific food call that can instantly summon them though, which is a high pitched "kitty kitty kitties!" Cats outta nowhere.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:01 AM on August 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


OH, and slight derail but relevant to the previously - my cats do not like being squished! They are clearly defective.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:01 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


Moxie Parker aka Pooper knows her name.

We’re not sure if Sir Digby Chicken Caesar does yet, but he’s new.
posted by Kitteh at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2018 [11 favorites]


This is why despite the excellent names my cats always get, I always just end up calling them "Kitty!" (complete with rising pitch on second syllable).
posted by TwoStride at 6:25 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


The only cat I've ever had that answered to his name was the late (and deeply missed) HarryHarryHarry. He was just about the age you see him in that picture when one day he was nowhere to be seen (a bit alarming with a small kitten), and so I started calling "HarryHarryHarry! HarryHarryHarry!" and he came running from wherever he had been. For the rest of his life, he always answered to that call.
posted by briank at 6:31 AM on August 12, 2018 [14 favorites]


Beatrix clearly knows her name, which is all high-pitched sounds. And sometimes she cares. If a treat or a scrap is in the offing, for example. But other times, yeah, not so much with the caring.
posted by slkinsey at 6:40 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


All our cats know their names and respond conversationally. According to mood of course. This is what happens when you talk to them like they are people.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:43 AM on August 12, 2018 [8 favorites]


Yes. The one cat I was able to have as a child/teen was named Jolie (I was just starting to learn French when she came to us as a kitten).
posted by droplet at 6:49 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is why a shrieked "you little shit!" gets Rico's attention, but a stern "NO." does not.
posted by Foosnark at 6:58 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


We’re not sure if Sir Digby Chicken Caesar does yet, but he’s new.

Do you do the action sequence theme music when Sir Digby is stricken by "apparent madness" ?? please say yes!


Shut it down folks, we have our forever winner of the cat name game!
posted by some loser at 7:03 AM on August 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


So I just tried calling to my cat and realized I named her Cindy, but when I call her I tend to put a low pitch on the y. She came anyway. Bless her.
posted by brook horse at 7:57 AM on August 12, 2018


So that's why you should name your cat Fluffy...
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:10 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Purrsephone answers to her whole name, but also Purrsy, and also anything else you say, including children's names, other pets, the rattle of anything, and Bob. She's the talkingest cat that has ever talked. The other cat comes when I call, but ignores everyone else, unless they preface or punctuate with a rattle mouse.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:12 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


We’re not sure if Sir Digby Chicken Caesar does yet, but he’s new.

I used to call my late cat Nellie "Lady Digby Chicken Caesar!"

I don't see why you can't just say any name in a high-pitched voice.

Lancelot is a magnificent beast and I wants to kiss him's tummy-tum-tum.

Dr. Uri's cat-squishing technique worked like a dream when Niko and Tommy had their annual checkup a few months back.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:16 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Lancelot is a sweet, gorgeous cat. I love him.

If I say "Esper, look!" my cat will wake up immediately and stampede over to me howling, because she knows it means I've found a bug for her to chase.
posted by Stonkle at 8:43 AM on August 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


I have had success meeting cats by calling them "fluffy". Most cats seem to respond to "fluffy". I have tried this in several countries on at least two continents, both in homes and in the REAL STREETS. Try it yourself sometime.
posted by some loser at 8:44 AM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oddly enough, the most consistent way I have of calling Hypatia from wherever she may be and whatever in which she is engaged, is to begin extemporizing the weirdest sounding meows I can produce. About 30 seconds of meowing in the style of, say, a muppet being tickled while their airplane is in free fall and buffeted by turbulence, and voila, Hypatia comes sniffing.

From now on I'll add helium voices to the meow mix.
posted by wires at 8:48 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


I give me cats people names, such as Bianca and Magnus, and they come, though always grumbling when I call them.

My OC was Marc Anthony, and he knew his name, yet he would merely whine when I called him, but when I used the food call, "Yummy time!", he'd run to me like a bullet.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:12 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


We do, in fact, hum “The Devils Gallop” when Digby is overtaken by zoomie madness. Sometimes dialogue sneaks in too.
posted by Kitteh at 9:42 AM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


posted by wheek wheek wheek

No no no. You’re supposed to name the cat something that sounds like mice noises, not yourself!
posted by greermahoney at 9:48 AM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


Huh. Rupert is very closely bonded to Mr. Carmicha, who is his equerry, but responds to my call much more reliably and promptly and stops doing The Bad Thing when I admonish him. I thought it was because Rupert, who is fundamentally a gentleman, knew I meant business, whereas Mr. Carmicha is a soft touch and can therefore be selectively ignored when convenient. But maybe it's the quality of our voices; mine is high and the mister's is low.
posted by carmicha at 9:53 AM on August 12, 2018


We have a cat named Bean and a cat named Joel. They are sisters. If you call one of them, either they both show up, or a random one shows up (may or may not be the one you called), or they both ignore you.
posted by BrashTech at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is it just me, or is this vet is giving off some Jeff Goldblum vibes?

I have noticed that our cat Martina responds more when we emphasize the "tee" syllable of her name and make it exaggeratedly high-pitched. Our other cat, Serge, has a low one-syllable name that rarely gets his attention, but he's more amenable to simply being scooped up and moved if necessary. But the only thing that reliably gets both of them running toward us is a shaking a treat bag.
posted by lisa g at 10:39 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


The design of cat's ears allows the human voice to travel in one ear and directly out the other.

Science!
posted by mightshould at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2018 [22 favorites]


We named our cat appropriately (Trini), but I think anything would have worked. She's like a dog. Greets you at the door, comes when called, attacks burglars...oh wait, not that part.

Fun fact about our family: All five of us (mother, father, child, dog, cat) have five-letter names. No, we didn't plan it this way. Maybe Jesus did.
posted by kozad at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


He is actually wrong about birds communicating in high-pitched vocalizations--relative to mammals, birds in general are very bad at picking up high pitches, because they lack structures like the mammalian inner ear bones that help to amplify these sounds. There are exceptions, but they're mainly things like owls that prey on squeaky things.

Mind you, it's still useful for cats to pick them up because rodent vocalizations happen almost entirely in the ultrasonic. That being said, high pitched, squeaky vocalizations are common to humans addressing a whole ton of species that do not hunt rodents for a living--dogs, babies, small children, particularly adorable croutons, etc. And repeated staccato high-pitched vocalizations are common to all humans trying to amp up or start activity in an animal and are pretty common for this purpose among social mammals, too. (Lower-frequency, slower vocalizations tend to be more calming in nature.) He's definitely right about the what of cat names, but I'm not sure I buy the why.

Incidentally, my cats are Ishka (usually prounounced EEsh-ka to get her attention), Dent, and Peter. Dent may or may not know his name, but the other two definitely do--it's just that Pete has independently decided his name is actually Pee. Oops.
posted by sciatrix at 11:40 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


When my Pico was young she was extremely vocal. Never meows though, just various adorable trilling sounds. I'd talk back to her with my best human versions, so I guess her functional name (if I want to get her attention) is "prrrrt?" with the inquisitive rise at the end.

In her dotage, she's much less interested in conversation, so I'm lucky if I get an ear turned in my direction.
posted by bethnull at 2:25 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Eponysterical.
posted by matildaben at 3:38 PM on August 12, 2018


Rufus and Oliver do not have the right sort of cat names but they are trained* to come to a whistle.

*They have become less trained now that it is summer and they'd rather be out late at night.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:51 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


So I just called over Beatrix and deliberately used a high-pitched voice. She came right over. So, plus one on that. Unfortunately, she came over to me by hopping up on the dinner table and then picking her way through the food items which are currently out on the kitchen counter. So, yanno, minus ten.
posted by slkinsey at 3:57 PM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


Major Charlie Maow-function came to us simply as Charlie. Two years later, all he responds to is Mao.
posted by hoodrich at 7:48 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have three cats, and they have full names. About 80-90% of the time, if I call them by their full names they will appear. They're not particularly mice-like sounds, nor do I have anything like a high-pitched voice. But if I call "Lilah Zuul McScratcherson" once or twice at a decent volume, my tuxedo cat shows up.
posted by jzb at 8:07 PM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


He is actually wrong about birds communicating in high-pitched vocalizations--relative to mammals, birds in general are very bad at picking up high pitches, because they lack structures like the mammalian inner ear bones that help to amplify these sounds.

I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. I think what he said in the video was that birds typically make higher pitched sounds, which cats pick up on. And for sure, other than a few outliers, like owls, I think most birds I’ve heard make noises that are on the higher scale of human speech. Whether or not other birds have the right equipment to hear the high-pitched sounds their friends make, I have no idea. But a ton of small birds, which are meal-sized to cats, make high-pitched noises. Hence the onomatopoeic word “tweet.”
posted by greermahoney at 10:04 PM on August 12, 2018


But if I call "Lilah Zuul McScratcherson" once or twice at a decent volume, my tuxedo cat shows up...

You're not calling your cat. You're summoning them!
posted by ninazer0 at 3:31 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I once decided to play a slightly mean trick on my youngish (8 & 10) niece and nephew. I told them my cat Barnabas understood English. To prove it, I called him:

"Barnabaas!"
(cat comes skidding around the corner) "Meow!"
"Do you want to go outside?"
(cat runs to the door) "MEEE-OOOWWW!!!!"

They were suitably impressed.

Later on, my conscience got the better of me, so I explained it was just a trick using tone of voice and looking at the door. To prove it, I called him again:

"Vacuum cleaner!"
(cat comes skidding around the corner) "Meow!"
(looks at door) "Are you a stupid cat?"
(cat runs to the door) "MEEE-OOOWWW!!!!"
posted by Lunaloon at 5:46 AM on August 13, 2018 [9 favorites]


My LaCat understands one word verifiably, and it's "play?" With a bright "a" and the question-inflection, although she'll sometimes react to it otherwise too. It will bring her dashing into the room, and out of her darkest hiding spots even when there is that terrible calamity, Other Humans, present.

This means that I've had to use that power responsibly, too. I spell the word out p-l-a-y to Other Humans when I don't intend to bring out the feather onna stick or the laser pointer, and never say it to trick her. I know that I will always need it to get her to appear when she really really wants to hide, because she's very good at it and I can't feel comfortable until I know she isn't somehow out of the house. So if I say that word, we play.

The flip side is that she will come in front of the bookcase where the toys are, look up, and meow a quite good imitation of my tone with that word, if not the phonemes. Who's calling whom by what name is debatable.
posted by seyirci at 12:45 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


In addition to their own names, my cats know each other's names. If I'm paying attention to one, but say something about the other one, it gets a reaction. Sometimes mad, sometimes looking around suspiciously like I must have said the name because she's about to come up and ruin snuggle time.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:31 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Rufus and Oliver do not have the right sort of cat names

Rufus is one of Niko's nicknames, on account of his orange fur.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2018


I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. I think what he said in the video was that birds typically make higher pitched sounds, which cats pick up on. And for sure, other than a few outliers, like owls, I think most birds I’ve heard make noises that are on the higher scale of human speech.

....yeah, that's me thinking like a biologist when I'm defining high pitch. I work on vocalization in animals, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about pitch and frequency in ranges that reflect the norms of species other than humans. (Here's a pretty good visual scale of different species hearing ranges.) I work in the 2,000-20,000 Hz range, but most human speech falls into a range of about 85-255 Hz. That's fairly low by both my standards and the standards of mammalian vocalization! But we're fairly large mammals, as mammals go, and so this makes sense: bigger larynges make lower noises. (Louder, too.)

Human hearing can detect stuff from about 31 Hz to 19,000 Hz, depending on the person--some people hear things better than others at different frequencies, and in particular people tend to lose higher pitches as they age. Our vocalizations are therefore tuned to the lower end of that scale, but not the absolute lowest end. And we hear best in the range in which we typically vocalize.

Now, by contrast, cats hear in a range of 55 Hz up to about 77,000 Hz. This isn't unusual for a mammal, although it's on the wider end of the hearing range for a small mammal. They can hear up into these very high frequencies because rodents usually use them extensively to communicate. (Cats themselves usually talk to one another in frequency ranges from about 69 Hz up to around 1600 and average about 1250, which is indeed much higher than humans like to chat. This might be partly because of picking up on prey--more about that later--but cats also probably vocalize in higher ranges because they're physically smaller and because higher pitches reduce the likelihood of predators of cats themselves listening in.)

Birds, though, can often hear only up to 8000, 8500 Hz--even owls can only make it up to 12,000. Humans can actually hear higher pitched vocalizations than many birds can! Many birds will vocalize towards the topof their auditory range, close to that 8000 mark, in part because many birds are quite small--compare a canary, say, to an equivalently sized rodent--and need to avoid mammalian predators, and high-frequency noises are harder to pick up on and degrade quickly across distances. Small animals also produce higher frequency noises just by virtue of biomechanics, and it's likely that small birds are actually adapted to lower the frequency of their vocalizations as compared to equivalently sized mammals because birds are operating at a considerable handicap when it comes to hearing for reasons that have to do with accidents of evolution.

Let's look at those equivalently sized rodents for a minute. I mentioned my professional bias is shaped by the fact that I work in about a 2000-20,000 Hz range? That's because I work with a species of mouse that is notable for making very very loud, very low-frequency vocalizations across long distances. Most mice don't do that. Generally speaking, your average house mouse vocalizations intended for other mice are in the 50,000 to 100,000 Hz range. They are very high frequency because many predators can't hear them, which means mice bear less costs of communicating with one another, and because high frequency sounds dissipate easily in complex environments.

So I'm grousing, basically, because from the perspective of a cat or even the full auditory range of a human, bird song isn't really high pitched. If you're comparing bird song to human speech, though, of course it's high pitched--and if you compare bird song to rodent vocalizations, canaries and parakeets and finches are belting out low, low bass notes. Bird song is actually a lot closer to human speech than mouse vocalization--the squeaks you hear from an aggrieved or demanding mouse will be the absolute lowest-frequency sounds mice make, and cats can hear just about all of those sounds.

Just for comparison, here are some ballpark averages for human versus cat versus bird versus mouse vocalizations a cat might listen to, so you can see why I was feeling a little crabbily pedantic:

human: ~185 Hz
cat: ~1250 Hz
bird: ~4000 Hz
mouse: ~40,000 Hz (this is a particularly loud USV in mice and also a particularly low-pitched one!)

There's a really substantial jump there.
posted by sciatrix at 10:05 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


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