The summer’s latest Instagram trend seems appropriate for these turbulent times due to its simplicity, charm and inclusion of cute animals. Here’s how it works: Accounts with handles following the format “what [insert animal here] are you” post various photos of some type of animal, each of which corresponds to a human name.
Instagram users can scroll through each account’s feed to find the animal for their name, their friends’ names or their crush’s name. As I learned firsthand, it is possible to scroll through cow photos for hours without realizing. Essentially, the fun is boundless.
But how did this seemingly random trend begin on Instagram? As I saw more and more dogs, cats and even rats pop up on my friends’ stories, I wanted answers. So, I went to the only place on Instagram where private, interpersonal communication is possible: the DMs.
Of the five prominent “what animal are you” accounts I messaged (frogs, pandas, cows, rats and dogs), only the rat account and dog account were willing to answer questions. Regardless, as a humble student journalist, I was excited to get in touch with real social media stars. The owners of the accounts were extremely friendly and forthcoming, and I learned some key information about this entertaining trend.
As it turns out, both @what_rat_are_you and @whatdogyouare, which have racked up 32,900 and 121,000 followers respectively, were inspired by the same source: @what_cat_you_are, the account they credit with the conception of the trend. However, the account has since been deleted for reasons unknown to either of my sources.
The owners of the rat account said that they started their page to riff off of the original cat page.
“We thought the ‘what_cat_you_are’ account was hilarious!” explained the rat account owners. “We started sending their posts with the names of guys we’ve hooked up with and made this account as a joke to make fun of them.”
Since creating their accounts, the owners of @what_rat_are_you and @whatdogyouare said they have been personally matching human names to funny rat and dog photos. The creator of the dog account said that they add names based on DM requests from their followers and try to pick a dog with a personality that corresponds to the general aesthetic of the name or the requester’s Instagram profile.
“I usually go off vibes or personal experiences with people who have that name,” explained the owner of @whatdogyouare. “If I don’t know anyone with the name sometimes I’ll look at the Instagram and go off [my] first impression.”
The owners of @what_rat_are_you said that they initially used a similar strategy but have since changed their tactics due to the volume of rat photo requests from followers.
“When we first started getting requests we tried to match the rats to the personalities of people’s instas, but with so many requests it’s hard to do that as much so we just try to make funny and original captions to make up for that a bit,” the creators of @what_rat_are_you explained.
And @what_rat_are_you’s captions are absolutely part of the appeal. Some are related to the rat and the name; for example, the rat photo for Destiny is captioned “follow your destiny, destiny.” Other captions are more comedic: “if u don’t like feet i’m SO sorry” reads the caption for the photo of Blythe, which features both rat and human feet.
The creators of @what_rat_are_you also cleverly include a Google spreadsheet in their Instagram story highlights, which allows followers to find their names alphabetically and click a link to take them to their personal rat photo. I can confirm that it works, and if I were a rat, I would be black and white, chubby and wearing a flower crown.
Over on the canine side of things, @whatdogyouare took the spreadsheet idea a step further. In their bio, you can click a link that takes you to their website, where you can find your dog, as well as donate to Royal Animal Refuge, a Georgia-based animal rescue center. Other animal accounts have also found a way to monetize their Instagram presences with links to Cash App and Venmo in their bios.
So, this is how the accounts work. They’re easy to access, funny and heartwarming, and some of them are helping raise money for a good cause. But who are the people behind the accounts? While I refrained from asking the account owners to reveal their identities, they did provide some information about who they are.
“We’re actually four college girls running this account and no one except a few of our close friends and families know about this account!” divulged the owners of @what_rat_are_you. “We’re thinking about revealing who we are when we get back to school but haven’t decided yet.”
Though the owner of @whatdogyouare did not provide any information about who they are, they did say that this is their first taste of fame.
“It’s been crazy!” they wrote. “[It’s been] a little bit overwhelming at times, but overall very fun. No, I’ve never been ‘famous’ before or gone viral so this has been a very fun and unique experience! And yes, my friends and family know I run this account and they think it’s really funny.”
Since the conception of the “what animal are you” trend in mid-July, I’ve seen “what Office meme are you,” “what mood are you” and “what Schitt’s Creek screen cap are you” popping up on my friends’ stories, along with countless other accounts dedicated to matching names with every kind of domesticated animal you can imagine.
But is the trend really here to stay, or are people creating endless “what image are you” Instagram accounts in an attempt to quickly gain followers and possibly earn money? Based on the limited evidence I have gathered and a quick survey of the Instagram stories of the accounts I follow, this viral trend will come and go. But the joy of scrolling for 10 minutes and finally locating my name on a photo of a bizarrely skinny greyhound looking abashedly at the camera? That will stay with me forever.