Hello Kitty is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, and her whiskered face has appeared on clothing, guitars, motor oil and even gravestones.

But despite those pointed ears and whiskers — despite her very name — Hello Kitty is not a cat.

Anthropologist Christine R. Yano, author of "Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific," shocked the world this week when she broke the “cat-astrophic” news to the LA Times. But not even she was aware that the global phenomenon she’s spent years studying was not, in fact, feline.

In celebration of Hello Kitty’s 40th birthday, the Japanese American National Museum is arranging an exhibit for the adorable Japanese character. When Yano was preparing her script for the exhibit, she described Hello Kitty as a cat and Sanrio — the company best known for creating products adorned with cute characters –  stopped her.

"I was corrected — very firmly," she told the LA Times. "That's one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show. Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it's called Charmmy Kitty."

So while she may look like a cat and be named after a cat, Hello Kitty — whose global fame began when she appeared on a coin purse in Japan in 1974 — is actually a British schoolgirl.

"She's a perpetual third-grader. She lives outside of London. I could go on,” Yano said. “A lot of people don't know the story and a lot don't care. But it's interesting because Hello Kitty emerged in the 1970s, when the Japanese and Japanese women were into Britain. They loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence. So the biography was created exactly for the tastes of that time."

According to Sanrio’s website, Hello Kitty’s full name is Kitty White and she lives in the suburbs of London with her parents, a twin sister, Charmmy Kitty and a hamster named Sugar.

She’s “a happy little girl with a heart of gold” who loves to bake cookies and apple pies.

Her motto is "You can never have too many friends."

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Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

If Hello Kitty isn't a cat, what is she?
Don't let that whiskered face fool you. Hello Kitty is actually a London third-grader who enjoys baking apple pies.