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What's in a Name?

Posted by Harry Shubin on

Henry the 8th 

I’m Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am Iam,

I belong to the family next door,

They’ve had, 7 cats, before

And every one was an ‘en-er-ee (Henry!),

They wouldn’t have a Fluffy or a Sam (no Sam!),

I’m their 8th old cat named Henry,

Henry the 8th I am!

(With sincere apologies to Herman’s Hermits)

 

(Henry – the Official Spokescat of your Newsletter Editor – who may well have 8 cats, but only ONE Henry!)

What’s in a name?  Could it be, the difference between finding a home, or staying in the shelter?  An unscientific study (meaning, a couple of volunteers we talked to at an adoption event) are of the belief that naming a rescue cat is an important part of helping that cat find a forever home.  Names can drive traffic to the website, hold interest of potential adopters, or even cause someone to notice a cat who might otherwise be overlooked. 

In Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul, there is a charming story about the magic of naming black cats “Jellybean”:  I smiled politely at the suggestion, thinking to myself that this woman knew nothing of the harsh realities of animal shelters.  Just because I had named one kitten Jellybean and it had gotten adopted didn’t mean anything – it had just been a stroke of luck.  Black cats were still black cats after all, and most people didn’t want them.  As the day went on, I kept thinking about the woman’s advice.  “You should name all the black cats Jellybean.”

The name did seem to have magic for those black cats, but is there really any hard evidence that names make a difference?  The ASPCA recently tried to find out, in a controlled study.  Researchers asked 384 potential cat adopters at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City and at off-site adoption events in the city to rate the four cats shown on their perception of the cats':

  • Health
  • Playfulness
  • Friendliness
  • Ease of adapting to a new home
  • Ability to attract potential adopters

The potential adopters were given only a photo of the cat, and one of three names, or simply a serial number.  The names were in three categories, human baby names from the list of top names of 2009 (such as Michael, Emma, Matthew, Chloe), pop culture names (such as Spock, Mulan, Beyonce) or traditional cat names (such as Clover, Cookie, Muffin).  The study also looked at the relationship between the category of a cat's name on length of stay in the Adoption Center from 2006 to 2009. Average length of stay data was examined for 1,056 healthy, owner-surrendered cats between the ages of 6 months and 8 years whose names fit the three non-numerical name categories.  The ASPCA concluded that the cats' names had no significant effect on their ratings on each dimension or on their overall "desirability" rating. After the survey, many respondents admitted to paying more attention to the appearance of the cat than the name.

And yet…  over at the Wisconsin Humane Society, several national blog articles noted their “ingenious” naming of three kittens who were quickly adopted:  Professor Puddinpop, Colonel Snazzypants and The Good King Snugglewumps. 

 

 

So, what’s a rescue to do?  Of course, sometimes cats are turned into the shelter with a name which they may have had a long time – and it’s a guess as to whether the cat needs the familiarity of its name to help it transition, or perhaps if the cat was in an unhappy situation a fresh start and new name are just the ticket.  Other times, the cat’s name in his prior life is simply not known, or for kittens, no names may have been given.   If a new name is to be assigned, and the goal is to make the cats appealing to potential adopters, perhaps it would make sense to look at the most popular CAT names of the year – and Rover, a site for sourcing pet sitters, put together the most popular names for cats in the United States.  For male cats, Charlie, Jack, and Jasper were the top three choices. For female cats, Lily, Chloe, and Lucy topped the charts.  Surprisingly – nearly all human names!  A quick look at the currently available cats at the FFGW website in fact shows a fairly high percentage of human names.  So in the end, perhaps we want our cats to be like family – furry little companions with questionable table manners with whom we put up because we love them so much.  Gotta go – it’s Henry, Charlie, Holly, Bobby, Brooke, Vickie, Piper and Pearl’s mealtime!

 


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