This small study was designed to investigate whether the names given to cats in the ASPCA Adoption Center influence how potential adopters perceive them or affect the cats' length of stay.
The study was conducted by Hunter College student Lisa Rotter with the assistance of Dr. Katherine Miller (ASPCA), Dr. Sheila Chase (Hunter College) and Dr. Martin Chodorow (Hunter College).
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':
Ease of adapting to a new home
Ability to attract potential adopters
The only information respondents had about each cat was the photo and a name, written in orange, capital, 36 point type next to the photo. The respondents did not meet the actual cats. Respondents rated each cat on each of the five dimensions on a scale of 0 to 11 (low to high), which were then averaged to create an overall "desirability" rating for each cat.
Cat names were assigned to photos from one of four categories:
Human baby names from the list of top names of 2009
Pop culture names
Traditional cat names
Serial numbers (comparable to animal ID numbers)
Each name category included four male names and four female names of no more than three syllables. Serial numbers consisted of eight different five-digit numbers.
Each survey contained all four cat photos with a different name for each cat, one name from each category. Each cat photo was paired with every possible name and serial number four times throughout the study.
Respondents were not prompted to focus on the cats' names when completing the survey.
Because responses on a survey might not match actual adoption behavior, 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.
According to the surveys, 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.
The study results are consistent with length of stay data from the Adoption Center. Although cats with pop culture names appeared to have a somewhat longer length of stay compared to popular human baby names or traditional cat names, the difference was not statistically significant.
What's the Bottom Line?
While studies of human names have found that they can strongly influence first impressions, this small study of four cat name categories did not find that name strongly influenced adopter perceptions or cats' length of stay in the ASPCA Adoption Center.
These results suggest that the types of cat names commonly used in shelters may not make or break an adoption decision. Therefore it may not be worth spending a great deal of time assigning the "most appropriate" name for shelter cats.
However, results may have been different had different cat photos, names or name categories been used, or had different questions been asked. Visual aspects of the cats in shelters (color, hair length, behavior) likely have a stronger influence on adopters than their names do, since cats are so widely varied in those readily-noticed characteristics.