The Most Popular Cat Names and the Meanings Behind Each of Them
Make no mistake about it: Cats know their names. "While cats recognize fewer words than dogs, cats can recognize several words," says Catherine Lenox, DVM and regulatory veterinary manager at Royal Canin. "Studies looking at name recognition in cats have found that because their name is used so frequently, they are able to recognize it." That's why it's important to pick a name for your cat that's easy to pronounce and easy for them to remember. "It's easier for your pet to recognize a name with one or two syllables than a longer one," says Dr. Jamie Richardson of Small Door Veterinary. "If you want to try to teach your cat their name, we recommend regularly using it whilst petting them, playing with them, and when feeding them, so that they begin to make positive associations with the sound."
Curious what names pet parents most commonly give their cats? From a Roman mythological moniker to movie-inspired ones, here are a handful of the most popular cat names—and the meanings behind them.
Max or Maxi
A nickname for Maximilian or Maximus—which means "greatest" in Latin—Max is a short and simple-to-articulate name that Dr. Lenox says is wildly popular for cats. "Max is easy to say and is probably easier for the cat to recognize," she explains. One of the top ten most popular cat names of 2020 according to Rover, Max is also used as an abbreviation for Maxwell, a Gaelic Celtic surname that translates to "great stream." And while name Max is widely considered a unisex name, the name "Maxi" can also be used for similar effect if you're naming a female feline.
Oliver or Ollie
The number one most popular male cat name in 2020, according to Rover, is Oliver. Sometimes called "Ollie" for short, Oliver translates to "peaceful" in French, and "kind one" in Old Norse. Both meanings are likely to be derived from the Latin translation of "olive tree"—a popular symbol of peace, calm, and tranquility—so it's no surprise that it's a common name for felines, that are known to sleep about 15 hours a day on average. "One of my own cats is named Oliver!" Dr. Marci Koski, a cat behaviorist at Tuft Paw says.
Luna ranked number one as 2020's top female cat name in Rover's research for the fourth year in a row. The name of the Roman mythological goddess of the moon, Luna also means "moon" in Latin. "A short and unique name like Luna makes it easier for your cat to learn," Lambert Wang, co-founder of Cat Person explains. "Though they might not come running up to you like a dog, a 2019 study in Nature found that cats are able to distinguish their own names from general nouns, even when strangers called for them."
Leo, which is Latin for "lion", is the second most popular male cat name in 2020 according to Rover. Members of the Felidae family, both lions and domestic cats are considered a part of the feline cat species. And since so many cats have fluffy hair around their necks that resembles a lion's mane, Leo is an especially common name for pets with long, thick coats, like Persians, Himalayans, and Ragamuffins.
Simba and Nala
Speaking of lions, Richardson says "Simba" and "Nala"—the names of the animated protagonists in Disney's The Lion King—are wildly popular cat names. In Swahili, Simba is the word for lion, and also has other definitions, such as strong and king. While Nala has both multiple meanings, and translates to "beloved" or "queen" in African-Swahili, and "water in the desert" in Arabic.