Do Nicknames Confuse Our Pets?

May 5, 2010

By Julia Williams

Most people spend a good deal of time trying to come up with the perfect name for their newly adopted pet. We search names compiled in baby books and on the internet, read articles, ask friends for suggestions, and observe our four-legged friend to find the name that best fits them. Why then do so many of us seem to use nicknames for our pets more often than the name we decided upon when we first brought them home? And does it really matter? Is it okay to call your cat or dog by names other than their “official” one? Do multiple names confuse your pet, or will they learn to respond to the nicknames too?

In all the many years I’ve been owned by cats, I have used nicknames for them. Each cat has had their “given” name, and a slew of nicknames. I didn’t think two licks about this until the other day, when I happened upon a discussion on an internet forum for pet owners. I often feel compelled to surf the internet, and as a pet writer for this blog and other websites, I naturally gravitate towards sites that pertain to animals. Pet forums are not exactly a productive use of my time, but they can be entertaining. Or in this case, serve as inspiration for an article.

The topic that day was whether people should just stick to the name they’ve given their pet, or if it was alright to give them nicknames. The vast majority were all in favor of nicknames for pets. They said they used nicknames all the time, and that their pets responded to them just as much as they did their original name. One person really made me laugh when they wrote that their dog’s nicknames were “Hey!” and “No!” I think many people can relate to that.

But in any crowd, on any subject, there will be those who favor and those who oppose. So it was on this forum, where a few people stated that they felt giving nicknames to pets could confuse them, and that it was unfair to the pet. As I said, this wasn’t something I had ever questioned. I can certainly see where, if you are trying to teach a puppy his name, you would want to be consistent and not use nicknames. Not having ever owned a dog, I have no knowledge on whether nicknames complicate matters for an adult dog. I am, however, quite confident in my belief that nicknames do not confuse my cats. Still, I thought it only fair to conduct some research on the matter.

I turned to my friends, my family and my ever-growing number of Facebook “acquaintances,” and asked for their opinions. This produced near identical results to the pet forum, wherein about 95% said they gave their pets nicknames and didn’t see any problem with it.

In the end, this exhaustive research (ha!) and years of firsthand experience have led me to conclude that it’s perfectly fine for pet owners to give nicknames to their dogs and cats. Dog owners report that their canine companions do answer to their nicknames, and everyone knows most cats only answer to humans when food is involved. I’m pretty sure there’s no need to worry about whether pets with nicknames will suffer psychological ill effects. Therefore, we should all feel free to call our pets pretty much anything we want to, and no one will accuse us of not being responsible pet owners.

So… what cute nicknames have you come up with for your dog or cat? Do share!

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Nicole says:

    I have a 3 year old, beautiful Yorkie named Chanel Monét.. but she goes by: Chanel, Cha-Cha, Nater bug, Nae-Bae, Natels(nae-tuls), Nater, Nater Bater, Nel Bell, and Cha-Nae-Nae.. she knows her name and all her nicknames. She’s the sweetest baby there is. Hope you enjoyed.

  2. Amber says:

    I have a black cat named felix . he is one of the cutest cats Ive see. I got him about 2 months ago so he should be about 6 months old. Anyway i call him fefe all the time. He answers to both his name and nickname and he seems perfectly fine.

  3. Sarah says:

    I have a giant two-year old tabby called Marco, his nicknames are Marky-Mark and little boy :). I also have a few month old kitten called Maze, they include Mazie and Mei-Mei. I have just now realized that I’m apparently partial to two nicknames per cat. Although I’m sure a few more pop in and out of existence every once in a while.

  4. Lynette says:

    I have an adorable mutt named Lady. She is toy poodle, shih tzu, corgi and chihuahua. We started calling her Ladybug or just bug because she is a smaller dog. We call her princess and mama, but the name she gets most excited for and responds beat to is dog. It bothers me that my son calls her dog, but she seems to like it best.

  5. Maddy says:

    I give all my pets nicknames. Max is Maximootius Bon Frentootius. I do not know how I came up with that. Sadie is The Sadesmeister or Sadenguini. Bailey is Bailenheimer. Casey is Case. Charlie is Charles or Char Less. Maggie Mae is Magu Maesers. I like to say, “Magu where is my Ragu?!” Scooter (who has sadly passed away) was Scotland. Now on to the cats. Boots is Bots. Selena is Seleners. Finally, Mary is Marty Mare or sometimes, just Marty. That’s all my pets and their nicknames. I do not know how my brain comes up with these names, though. Lol.

  6. Samreen says:

    I have a 1 year old french mastiff, named Skylar. My dad most of the time calls him sky, ski, kyle, kyla and he actually responds to it. I think nicknames make them ever more adorable <3 .

  7. I have 7 kitties. We’ll start with my cat Socks. His first nickname was Nanocat because he was 8 weeks old when we got him, and very very small. Nanocat became Nern XD. There’s a character in a book named Mr. Nern, so I called him Nern after the character. Nern became Nernstern, Nernels, Nerny, Nanstan, Nernynern, NiddleyNern, Nid, Niddles, NoodleNern, NoodleyNern, and at one point we called him Melanie! For the second cat, Rosie, she started out as Ticklecat. One day, I messed up when trying to say ‘Ticklecat’, and then she became Tilkers. Tilkers turned into Tilk, Tilkmilk, Tilky, Tilklet, Trumpetcat, Weepy, Weep, Weepers, Weeplet, Weepertons, Streggy, Stregglet, and finally Streggles and Streggletons. Third cat. His name is Tarzan. We started out by calling him the Twig because he’s so skinny. Twig became, Teed, Teedertons, Teedertoins, Teedlet, The Twiggy Troublemaking Tiger, and finally Twigular Twig. Fourth cat. Her name is Terra. Terra soon became Terry, Terebear, Tereby, and finally Terrable and Terrafying. Fifth cat. Manny. Manny started as the Silver Flurry. Then, he was the Silver Tick, Miniman, and finally Megaman. Sixth cat. Harrington. Harrington is called Hudbud, Hubby, Hublet, Hareby, Hareblet, Huddybuddy, Hudlet, Hayrye, Harold, Harry, and Petunia Pretty Paws, (long story). Last cat. Jellybean. JellyBean has the largest list of nicknames. We call her Jubby, JubbyBubby, Jublet, Jelby, JellyBelly, Jebby, Jebberwaukie, Jubber Jibber Jabber, Jelby Belby, Jub, Chub Jub, Chubby Jubby, Grubby Jubby, Flubby Jubby, Jeblet, Cow Spotted Kitten, Cow Spot, Cow Spotter, Poofy, Pooflet, Pufflet, Big Tail Kitty, and Jubber.

  8. Courtney says:

    I’ve a sweet, young corgi by the name of Honey. I end up calling her names like hubby, bubbly, bubby, pupply, puppsy, humby, and so on with similar sounding names. Also things like sweetums, doggins, honeybutt, buttbutt and pooper. She knows them all surprisingly well, though I will comment that I believe tone plays a major role. I’ve got a happy-about-dog voice and a not-having-it voice.

  9. Mary says:

    I was just thinking about this and so glad I found this article! I have a two year old yellow lab named Finn. I call him handsome all the time and I noticed that he responds to it now as well as his name! I guess if someone called me beautiful I’d respond too! Lol

  10. Natalya says:

    I have a female 1 year old Jack Russell Terrier called Lola. She knows her name is Lola, she will always respond to it. However her nickname is ‘Lo’s’ and if you let her off the lead when she’s out in a massive field and you shout ‘Lola’ or ‘Lo’s she will come running back, I think dogs do understand nicknames, especially ones that are shortened versions of their name.

  11. Rod Brown says:

    My pit bull/beagle mix is officially Timber (was a rescue and came pre-named). He wags his tail incessantly, so I started calling him Fanny Wagon. He now comes to “Wagon” and also “Fanny”. When I say Timber, he knows he is in trouble. We call him Fanny more often than not.

  12. Lea says:

    Hello from Hawai’i:) Our mix breed 6 month old dog is named Lehua & her nickname is “HooHoos” & our 4 year old cat is named Mittens & her nickname is “Mitonytone” – Its so cute when they respond! Mitten boxes Lehua when Lehua only wants to play! Poor hoohoos!

  13. Joe says:

    My cat was named Melody at the Human Society before I got her. I shortened that to Melo or Mellow, but it just never really sounded right. For the past 6+ years the only time she ever hears that name is when she’s introduced to somebody new. I usually call her Squirm, which led to Squirm the Verm. It’s usually Vermo when I come home. I say “Hello Vermo!” There’s also Turd Verm, Monster, Preciouoso, Hungriest of the Hungry Ones, and of course Kitten.

  14. Jeff Larsen says:

    Funny article, I use nicknames all the time for my dogs and they love ’em!

    Fergie (black & white chi) is Monkey because she climbs all over me like a monkey licking my face (even learned the command ‘Up the nose’).

    Monkey also transitions into to others like Monkey Face for times she uses her human expressions with those big brown eyes and Monkey Butt because her butt wiggles on walks (it’s really entertaining!).

    Thx and love the new site! Jeff

  15. Anonymous says:

    My dog’s given name upon adoption is Mimi. Her nickname is Flip-Flops and she response to both. After 15-yrs, she still response to both.

  16. createchaos says:

    diamond and ashley (the girls) both know their names and come when called (if they feel like it). dozer has no idea who he is, and vincent our newest moves so much we can’t tell yet if he is coming because he was called, or if he was coming anyway.

    diamond is also fatcat. she knows both. ashley is also velcro kitty (but she’s already there), and also peanut butter kitty (dilute calico). dozer is bubba, he doesn’t know that yet either, but he is skittish and that may be why. vincent is sometimes little man, but still too new for him to know.

    i have answered to at least 20 versions of my first name and various nicknames over the years. that doesn’t count any of the three last names or variants over the last 40 years. why would i think my babies couldn’t figure it out?

    i purposely touch or pet a cat when trying to assign a name, sometimes crooning the name while loving the cat, and do so forever after so that they know it’s not a general call, but specific to them.

  17. terrepruitt says:

    I am of the belief that animals are like people; there are intelligent ones and there are not intelligent ones. Some people will be able to deal with a nickname and not get confused . . . others will get confused. I think the same thing of animals.

    Our cat has WAY too many nicknames, and pretty much, just like people do with “human” children, we use her name when she is in trouble.

    Someone mentioned “tone” in their comment, I believe that is true too. Years ago I found myself saying, “Nuh-uh!” And my cat stopped doing what she was doing. I laughed at myself because I was busy and noticed she was nosing something I didn’t want her in and “nuh-uh!” just came out. And she stopped and looked at me. So I think that my tone told her to stop, because how is she going to “know” that word (is it even a word?)? But she does know ALL of her names.

    Animal nicknames crack me up. I enjoyed reading your readers comments and all of the nicknames!

  18. PDX pride says:

    We have a lot of nicknames for our cats, and they’re not at all confused by them! Tabitha is Tabby, Tabs, Baby Girl, Tabba-Tabba, Screamie (when she’s wanting something and we don’t know what she wants), and Trash Can (because she’ll eat almost anything). Carbon is Carb, Carbs, Fluffy Buddy, Mr. Fluffikins, Baby Boy, and Carb-Carb. Skylar is Sky-Sky, Ky-Ky, Silly Buddy, Furry Nut, Buddy Boy, Skylotron, and Motorboat. Rori is Ror-Ror, Pretty Girl, Babykins, Lady of the House (more a title than a nickname, because she’s the alpha cat), and Rorikins. Starla is Star-Star, Tar-Tar, Snuggles, Hi you (yes, she responds to it!), and Star Girl. Spooky is Kitten, Spooks, Pooks, Pookers, Pooky-Pook, and Little One.

    I grew up with an Australian Shepherd “sister” whose name was Trixi. She also went by Trix, Ks (my baby-name for her, but also helpful when my dad had to call her in late at night and didn’t want to wake the neighbors calling for her), Smartie, Pretty Lady, and Sissie. She answered to all of them happily.

  19. Kerri Rae says:

    I often use the nicknames of Bug/s, Sof, Lou, Noodles, and Magoo for my dog Sofie Lou. She doesn’t seem to mind and always comes when called no matter the name.

    I always get asked about her nicknames and of course Sof and Lou are similar to her name. Bug is from Bug-a-boo like my mom use to call me, Noodles is because her back legs look like noodles when she shakes after getting wet or stretching and Magoo, well I am not quite sure where that one came from, but she sure doesn’t seem to mind 🙂

  20. Anonymous says:

    We call our pets just about anything that comes to mind at the moment, but our favorites for Piper (the Papillon) is monkey face, for Maggie (the tuxedo cat) is Mae Mae, and for Rocket (the fatty catty) is Shippers. Don’t ask. Piper and Maggie come to any form of their name but Rocket ignores us just on principle I think. 🙂

  21. meowmeowmans says:

    I love this post. 🙂

    We have SO many nicknames for our cats, and they respond to all of them. The funniest part is trying to remember how their nicknames evolved from point A to point Z in the first place! We call our cat Sam, among other things, “Dootie.” Moose is “Goosey.” And Maggie is “Chi Chi.” LOL

  22. Sarah Haugen says:

    I think that nicknames can be important in a crisis. our two German Sheperds have both learned to answer to “sheppee”. this is helpful when I need to get their attention quickly and give them the same command at the same time. it saves me that extra time of saying one’s name with the command, and then saying the other one’s name with the same command. in any case, they don’t seem to have a problem with all of the names that grace their person.

  23. Marg says:

    Thanks for visiting our blog. I think those therapy cats are pretty amazing too. None of mine would ever do that either because they are scared of everything. A bunch of them don’t come in the house .

  24. Anonymous says:

    her name is lexus she is a 7 year old shepard mix.. i call her lexi poo poo and she comes running.. its cute.. I can even say poo where are you.. and she will come

  25. Marg says:

    I think a dog knows their name and might be confused about a nickname. But I also think it is the tone of voice you use to call them or ask them to do something. I know my goats all came to the name Peepers because Peepers did know her name and would come to me so they would all follow.
    Now the cats all come when they feel like it to Kitty kitty. Some of them do know their names but again, I think it has a lot to do with how you say it and the pitch and tone of voice.
    A while back you wrote me an email asking if I knew of any Therapy Cats and I did find a couple of them. You had said something about sponsoring one. I just thought I would ask about it.
    There is a cat names Tabitha that is a therapy cat and I did a post on her. Her email address is if you feel like contacting her.
    Sorry this is so long.

  26. Oh Julia, I had to laugh at this one, my two dogs, as well as my kids all know they are in trouble if I use their actual names. Our Samoyed Chaos is either called grandma or fatty, and our Samoyed/Collie Bear is usually called floppy or beabea.