Last Updated on April 30, 2024 by themubbi63

You might have often heard of tabby cats and wondered what exactly is a tabby cat? Is it a particular breed? Is it a particular color? Is it a particular coat pattern? Well, it’s actually the last. A tabby is any breed of domestic cat that has an M-shaped mark on their forehead, accompanied by stripes on their cheek, back, legs and tail and other patterns on their chest, abdomen, shoulders, sides and flanks. They can come in a variety of colors.

Facts of Brown Tabby Cats

Name Meaning

The first question, of course, is where the name ‘tabby’ came from. It doesn’t seem to actually mean anything in English. Well, it doesn’t. The English ‘tabby’ came from the French ‘tabis’. Tabby cats are in fact named after Arabic silk since ‘tabis’ was the name for a rich, striped watered silk. 

This, in turn, can be traced back to the medieval French term ‘atabis’ and the Arabic term ‘attabiyya’. Attabiyya happened to be a district of Baghdad and was famous for its striped silk. The name tabby cat began to be used in England in the 1690s.

The tabby isn’t a particular breed and nor is it a generic name for a female cat. (That particular belief seems to arise from the fact that Tabby was a popular nickname for the female name Tabitha.)

Pattern Variations

Brown tabby cats are only one of a number of colors tabby cats can come in – grey, orange, brown or even black. There are also five different variations within the subgroup of brown tabby cats. The first is mackerel which has thin, curving stripes all over the body. The second is the classic, where the cats have the M-mark and whirls or swirls on the body.

The ticked brown tabby has separate bands of color on each strand of hair, leading to a sand-like textured coat. Ticked tabbies might have pale stripes on their bellies or tails or face or lower legs or alternately a long line down the back. Spotted tabbies have spotted patterns instead of stripes. And finally, the patched brown tabby has tortoiseshell or calico markings on their bodies. 

The M-Shaped Mark

The common distinctive feature that tabbies share is the M-shaped mark on their foreheads. While not every tabby has this mark, most do. Whether they’re light brown or dark brown in color, whatever their coat pattern might be, most brown tabby cats bear that mark. 

The speculation for this mark varies from place to place and religion to religion. Some people think it’s the mark of prophet Muhammad who was supposedly fond of cats. Christians and Jews, on the other hand, believe it’s the mark of Mother Mary. She is supposed to have blessed the cat that kept baby Jesus warm by giving it the M-shaped mark.

Of course, it’s genetics that is ultimately responsible, just as with any kind of distinctive pattern.

History and Origins

The origins of tabby cats is unknown. It’s quite obvious that it’s a holdover from their wildcat ancestors since tabby cats share these patterns with the Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica ornata), African wildcat (Felis lybica lybica) and European wildcat (Felis silvestris). Both the color and the patterns of all these cats are quite similar.

It also helps the tabby cats with camouflage since the brown color and striped or whorled pattern helps them hide in the wild. Tabby cats would practically disappear in long grass or forested areas with sun and shade patterns. 

We can assume that most domestic cats dating back to the medieval era were tabby cats. And the art and literature seems to bear out these assumptions.


While there’s admittedly little to connect the color and pattern of a cat with their temperament and nature, cat owners and enthusiasts claim that tabbies are friendlier and more affectionate than other types of cats. Brown tabby cats are known as being especially loving and attached to their owners. We might think that this has more to do with breed than the fact that the cat is a tabby (and after all most breeds have tabby variations) but that is what cat owners claim.

Studies and scientific research into this belief has shown that it is unfounded. Researchers say that cat owners might have preconceived notions about tabby cats which plays into this belief. It’s the same way that people tend to think of white cats as being demure and shy when color has nothing to do with personality.

Common Breeds That Come in Brown Tabby Variations


Maine Coon


Norwegian Forest Cat

American Shorthair


American Curl



Scottish Fold

Exotic Shorthair


Brown tabby cats, with their captivating stripes and charming M-mark, hold a special place in feline history. From their wildcat ancestry to their presence in various breeds, these beauties offer a timeless elegance. So, the next time you see a brown tabby, remember, there’s more to them than meets the eye!


Are brown tabbies more affectionate?

While some cat owners believe brown tabbies are more loving, research suggests it’s more likely a breed or individual personality trait.

What’s the significance of the M-mark?

The M-shaped mark on the forehead is a common feature among tabbies, but not all have it. There isn’t a scientific explanation, but various cultures have symbolic interpretations.

Are brown tabbies a specific breed?

No, brown tabby is a coat pattern found in many breeds like Maine Coon, Persian, or American Shorthair.

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