Why Are Male Cats Called Toms?


fun fact about stubbs the cat

After working in the animal welfare field for more than a decade I had heard male cats referred to as toms thousands (and thousands) of times. But when someone asked me why male cats are called toms I realized how silly that name must sound.

I mean, why couldn’t a male cat be called a Jerry? Or a Frank?

So why are male cats called toms? It goes all the way back to a 1760 book called The Life and Adventures of a Cat which featured a feline protagonist named Tom. Tom the Cat was a promiscuous male cat and eventually, the name caught on and tom or tomcat has been used ever since. 

But that’s not the only theory. Let’s dive a little deeper and learn more about the mystery behind the tomcat.

Tomcat Doesn’t Come From Tom and Jerry?

You might have guessed that the term tomcat came from the famous cartoon duo Tom and Jerry. But Tom the Cat first appeared in 1760 which is 180 years before the first Tom and Jerry episode! So while Tom and Jerry might have helped solidify and further popularize the name it existed long before this cartoon duo. It’s probably safe to say that Tom’s name came from the popular slang!

What Was The Life and Adventures of a Cat About?

There’s not much information out there on this book and I wasn’t able to track down a copy anywhere. But reports on the internet suggest that the book followed the main character, our friend Tom the Cat, and his rather promiscuous adventures. Apparently, Tom spent a lof the book courting females which isn’t unlike a real-life male cat. Besides giving male cats their common name, it’s suggested that the book also introduced the phrase “tomcatting” to describe promiscuous male behavior.

It’s also possible that the phrase tomcat was around before this book with some sources suggesting that the term was first used in the 1300s. However, I couldn’t find anything definitive in my research and even if it was in use The Life and Adventures of a Cat seems to be the book that brought the term to prominence.

Is A Tomcat Any Male Cat?

Generally, the term tomcat refers to a male cat that’s still intact or unneutered and sexually mature. So you wouldn’t describe a 2-month-old kitten as a tomcat. Tomcats have several secondary sexual characteristics that make them look pretty different from their female counterparts.

What Else Is Different About A Tomcat?

The biggest visible factor are the cheeks! Male cats that reach sexual maturity have large, fat jowls which are sometimes called stud cheeks or shields. This helps protect the cat’s neck during fights over territory or mates. Once developed, these jowls stay the rest of the cat’s life and make for an excellent spot to pet!

Depending on the area you live in, most cats may already be neutered well before they get old enough to have jowls so there’s a chance you may not have seen them before!

Check out this lovely video of a tomcat that gets rescued! You can see his big cheeks and his new cat parent even says it’s one of the things she loves about him!

Tomcats also have several behaviors that aren’t so cute.

First, they’re very focused on finding a mate and will spend a lot of time roaming in search of females. This can put them in much greater danger as they’re constantly out in the world taking risks to find a mate! For example, male cats are twice as likely to be involved in a hit-by-car situation and as a result of fighting for those mates intact males are more likely to contract FIV.

Tomcats are also more likely to spray in order to make their territory. And while cat pee already smells bad tomcat pee is something else!

I’m saying it smells terrible.

Luckily, almost all these behaviors can be resolved by neutering your cat! By neutering, you can lose the spraying, fighting, and roaming but keep the big cheeks. It’s the best of both worlds!

If you need to neuter (or spay) your cat, I recommend you check out the PetSmart Spay & Neuter Clinic locator which can you find low-cost or free clinics.

What Were Male Cats Called Before Tomcat?

Besides just referring to them as male cats, some other and possibly older names for male cats include rams and boars. Neutered male cats are sometimes referred to as gibs but this is losing popularity and I can tell you I’ve never heard someone use the term.

Closing Thoughts

There’s quite a bit of history to the simple name tomcat! Even after 200 years the name is still going strong and is as popular as ever but most people would guess that Tom and Jerry started it all.

But now you get to be one of the educated few that know it all started with a promiscuous little cat named Tom way back in 1760!

Logan M.

Logan has always loved everything about cats! Growing up with a family full of pets and a lifelong passion for animals he pursued work in the veterinary industry. After 10 years, he started BetterWithCats.net to help cat owners learn more about their feline friends.

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