Misc.: Survey of Source Languages
Scientific names have traditionally been derived from Latin and Greek,
but many other languages have been used, too. This page gives examples
of some of those languages.
Please note that I will not include most proper names
here. Tangaroa, for example, is the name of a Tahitian god; it
is not included here because the name is not derived from a Tahitian
common word. Texas, though derived from Caddoan, does not belong
here unless the genus is named for the Caddoan meaning ("friends") and
not the location.
Afar: Ardipithecus ramidus (fossil
hominid) "Ardi" means "floor," and "ramid" means "root". ("-pithecus"
is Greek for "ape".)
Afrikaans: Patellapis (Chaetalictus)
hakkiesdraadi Timmermann 2009 (bee) "Hakkiesdraadi" means
"barbed wire", for the bee has bristles resembling barbed wire on its
metasomal sterna. (It is also a brand of South African liquor, which
the biologists discovered separately.) [Timmermann & Kuhlmann
(2009), Zootaxa 2099: 1-188.]
Aimara: Hiskatherium Pujos et al., 2011
(Miocene ground sloth) Hiska means "dwarf" in this native
Aleut: Aaptos kanuux Lehnert, Hocevar & Stone,
2008 (sponge) kanuux is the Aleut word for
"heart". [Zootaxa 1939: 65]
Alutiiq: Allocareproctus ungak Orr and Busby,
2006 (snailfish) Ungak is the Alutiiq word for "whiskers."
[Zootaxa 1173: 32]
Amharic: Eragrostis tef (teff, an
Ethiopian grain). "Teff" is from Amharic or a related
Arabic: Alanqa 2010 (pterosaur) from "Al
Anqa", meaning Phoenix.
Arapaho: Aleiodes hiisiis Fortier, 2009
(braconid wasp) Hiisiis is the Arapaho word for "sun",
referring to the wasp's bright yellow-orange head and
Australian aboriginal: Notopais minya Merrin,
2004 (isopod) minya is "small" in an unspecified
aboriginal language from Australia.
Bemba: Ichibengops Huttenlocker et al. 2015
(Permian protomammal) A combination of Bemba and Greek meaning "scar
Beothuk: Haootia Liu et al., 2014
(Ediacaran cnidarian) Meaning "spirit" or "demon" because the fossil
"looks a bit creepy."
Blackfoot: Piksi Varricchio, 2002 (fossil pterosaur) From
Blackfoot (aka Siksika) piksi, "big bird" or "chicken". The
fossil, found on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, is known only from
part of one wing.
Cahuilla: Aphonepelma xwalxwal Hamilton, 2016
(tarantula) The specific epithet refers to "a type of small spider" in
the language of the Cahuilla Native Americans. [ZooKeys
Cheyenne: Aleiodes maheono Fortier, 2009 (braconid
wasp) Maheono means "spirit being".
Chinese: Shanweiniao Hou & Chen, 1999
(early Cretaceous enantiornithine bird) = "fan-tailed bird".
Choctaw: Micropterus haiaka Scopoli
(Choctaw bass) Haiaka is Choctaw for "revealed". The bass was
discovered in Alabama and Florida in 2013.
Creek: Catalpa Scopoli (tree)
From kutuhlpa, literally "head with wings", referring to the
flowers. (The Native American Catawba tribe is named after the
Crow: Suuwassea Harris & Dodson, 2004 (sauropod
dinosaur) "first thunder heard in spring," from suu, "thunder"
and wassea, "ancient".
Cumanagota: Mico Lesson, 1840 (monkey) From
Cumanagota via Spanish, wherein mico also means
Daga: Paedophryne dekot
(frog) In Daga, a local language in Papua New Guinea, dekot
means "very small." The frogs are about 9 mm long.
Dutch: Bambusa (bamboo) From
Dutch bamboes, deriving ultimately from bambu from
Kannada (a language of southwestern India) via Malay and
English: Cafeteria Fenchel & Patterson, 1988
(ciliate) Said Fenchel, "We found a new species of ciliate during a
marine field course in Rønbjerg and named it Cafeteria
roenbergensis because of its voracious and indiscriminate appetite
after many dinner discussions in the local cafeteria."
French: Melanogrammus aeglefinus L.
(haddock) The specific epithet is a latinization of
French aiglefin, "haddock".
Gaelic: Dearcmhara (ichthysoaur) The genus
name (pronounced "jark-vara") is Scottish Gaelic for "marine lizard."
Scottish Gaelic is the traditional language on the island of Skye,
where the fossil was discovered.
Gamilaraay: Eucalyptus coolabah Blakely &
Jacobs (eucalypt) Name taken from the indigenous Gamilaraay (aka
Kamilaroi and other spellings) word gulubaa of southeastern
Garo: Chikila Kamei et al. 2012 (caecilian)
From the (Northeast India) tribal name of what the locals thought were
deadly snakes. (They are harmless legless amphibians.)
Georgian: Zelkova Spach (Ulmaceae tree)
From the native name of Z. carpinifolia (Caucasian Zelkova) in
one of the Kartvelian languages (of which Georgian is the most
German: Affecauda Hall & Chambers, 1999
(platyhelminth parasitic worm) From German Affe, "monkey" (plus
Latin cauda, "tail"), because the worm's curled end looks like
a monkey tail.
Greek: Drosophila (fruit fly) =
Guarani: Netta peposaca (Vieillot, 1816)
(rosybill) "Peposaca" transcribes the Guarani name, which means "showy
wings". ("Netta" is ancient Greek for "duck".)
Hawaiian: Kikiki huna Huber & Beardsley
2000 (fairyfly) Kikiki and huna are both Hawaiian
words meaning "tiny bit". With a body length of 158-190 μm, this
wasp is the smallest known flying insect.
Hebrew: Marah Kellogg, 1863 (manroot) =
"bitter", from the taste of all parts of the plant.
Indonesian: Mugilogobius hitam Larson et al.,
2014 (goby) Hitam means "black" in Bahasa
Indonesian. [Raffles Bul. Zool. 62: 724]
Inupiaq: Ugrunaaluk Mori et al., 2015 (Cretaceous
hadrosaurid) meaning "ancient grazer".
Inuktitut: Tiktaalik Daeschler et al. 2006
(fossil lobe-finned fish) meaning "burbot" (a freshwater fish).
Japanese: Tsuga (hemlock, the conifer
Javanese: Prionodon linsang (Hardwicke,
1821) (banded linsang) "Linsang" is the Javanese name for this
family of mammal.
Kamchatkan: Oncorhynchus mykiss (Walbaum,
1792) (rainbow trout) "Mykiss" derives from the local
Kamchatkan name mykizha. (Several other Kamchatkan
salmon/trout also have Kamchatkan names.)
Khakas: Kileskus Averianov et al., 2010
(Jurassic theropod) meaning "lizard" in this Siberian
Khmer: Orthotomus chaktomuk Mahood et al.,
2013 (tailorbird) Chaktomuk means "four faces", referring
to the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Bassac, and Mekong rivers at
Phnom Penh, the bird's only known habitat.
Kiswahili: Euphorbia kalisana Carter, 1982 (African
plant), a very spiny plant, from Kiswahili kali sana = "very
Kwak'wala (Kwakiutl): Gwawinapterus Arbour &
Currie, 2011 (Cretaceous pterosaur) Derived
from Gwa'wina, meaning "raven", because of the similarity of
this Canadian pterosaur to the stylized raven heads of the masks of
the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe of the Vancouver Island area.
Lakota: Ekgmowechashala (Early Miocene primate) =
Lao: Sinopoda tham Jäger, 2012
(spider) Lao for "cave" is tham. [Zootaxa 3415: 37; the
paper includes several additional Laotian epithets.]
Latin: Ursus (bear) = "bear".
Makonde: chikungunya virus Named in 1955 from a
Makonde word meaning "to become contorted."
Malagasy: Ravensara (laurel) from
"ravintsara", meaning something like "good leaf".
Malay: Cananga (ylang-ylang, an aromatic
Maori: Waimanu Slack et al., 2006
(Paleogene penguin) = "waterbird".
Mapudungun (Mapuche language): Willinakaqe Juárez
Valieri et al., 2010 (hadrosaur) meaning "Southern duck mimic"
(willi, south + iná, mimic, + kaqe,
Marquesan: Campsicnemus aa Evenhuis 2009
(fly) From Marquesan 'a'a
for the full set
of Marquesan vowel flies.
Mongolian: Kol ghuva Turner et al. 2009
(theropod dinosaur) from Mongolian "köl" (foot) and
"ghuv-a" (beautiful). This is also the third-shortest dinosaur
name, after Yi qi and Mei long.
Moni: Dendrolagus mbaiso Flannery et al.,
1995 (dingiso) The Moni people of West Papua revere this tree
kangaroo as an ancestor and have taboos against hunting it. Its
epithet mbaiso means "forbidden" in their dialect.
Nahuatl: Manilkara zapota (sapodilla, a
fruit tree) from Nahuatl "tzapotl". The family
Sapotaceae has the same root.
Nali: Nactus kunan Zug & Fisher 2012 (bumblebee
gecko) In the Nali language from New Guinea, kunan means
"bumblebee", referring to the gecko's black and yellow
coloring. [Zootaxa 3257: 29]
Navajo: Seitaad Sertich and Loewen 2010
(Jurassic saurischian) derived from the Navajo word, "Seit'aad," a
sand-desert monster from their creation legend who swallowed its
victims in sand dunes, as the dinosaur skeleton Seitaad had
been found "swallowed" in a fossil sand dune.
Nyanja: Niassodon mfumukasi
(synapsid) Mfumukasi means "queen" (of Lake Niassa, per the
genus name), a tribute to Nyanja matriarchal society, the women of
Mozambique, and to Lake Niassa, near the fossil's discovery
Nyoongar: Haliclona djeedara Fromont & Abdo,
2014 (sponge) The specific epithet means "brown" in the Nyoongar
language from south Western Australia. (A second
species, H. durdong, means "green".)
Oglala: Tatankacephalus Parsons & Parsons
2009 (Cretaceous ankylosaurid) From Oglala tatanka,
"bison", and Greek kephale, "head".
Ojibwe: Esox masquinongy Mitchill, 1824
(muskellunge) The specific epithet is from the Ojibwa word
maashkinoozhe, meaning "ugly pike."
Okinawan: Majimun Uyeno & Nagasawa,
2012 (copepod) meaning "demon".
Omaha: Aleiodes min Fortier, 2009 (braconid
wasp) Min is the Omaha word for "sun", referring to the wasp's
bright yellow color.
Paumarí: Tapirus kabomani Cozzuol et al.,
2013 (tapir) The local Paumarí name for tapir is arabo
Paiute: Aleiodes pooedooa Fortier, 2009
(braconid wasp) The specific name means "abalone shell", referring to
the wasp's carapace. The Paiutes originally lived near where the wasp
Persian: Azadirachta A. Juss. (neem)
From azad dirakht, literally "free tree", as the tree serves as
a source of medicine.
Pisabo: Stenolicnus ix Wosiack, Montag and Coutinho,
2011 (Brazilian catfish) Ix is Pisabo (a.k.a. Mayo) for
"jaguar", inspired by the fish's coloring.
Polish: Dziwneono etcetera Dworakowska, 1972
(leafhopper) Dziwne ono = "it is strange".
Portuguese: Abobra Naudin. (cranberry
gourd) From Portuguese abóbora, "gourd".
Powhatan: Asimina Adans. (pawpaw) The genus
is derived from assimin, the tree's name among the Powhatan of
Quechua: Chenopodium quinoa (quinoa) from
Quechua "quinua" via Spanish.
Romanian: Balaur bondoc (sauropod
dinosaur) The name means "stocky dragon".
Russian: Slonik sibiricus Zherichin, 1977
(weevil). Slonik means literally "little elephant".
Sanskrit: Bruhathkayosaurus Yadagiri &
Ayyasami, 1989 (Cretaceous sauropod) From Sanskrit (in South
Indian transliteration) bruhath and kāya,
meaning "huge body".
Serbian: Picea omorika (Pancic) Purk.
(Serbian spruce) "Omorika" is simply the Serbian word for the
Seri: Mustelus hacat Pérez Jiménez
et al. 2005 (Smoothhound shark) Hacat means "shark" in
the language of the Seri Indians of Tiburón Island and Sonora,
Mexico. [Copeia 2005: 834.]
Sesotho: Australopithecus sediba (South
African fossil hominin) "sediba" = "wellspring."
Shoshone: Aleiodes dabai Fortier, 2009
(braconid wasp) Dabai means "sun", referring to the wasp's
bright yellow-orange color. [Zootaxa 2256]
Sinhala: Moschiola meminna (Erxleben, 1777)
(Sri Lankan mouse deer) Sinhala (Singhalese) meeminna means
Spanish: Sibon noalamina Lotzkat et al., 2012
(snake) From no a la mina!
, literally "no to the mine". See
for more of
Swahili: see Kiswahili.
Tahitian: Campsicnemus hihiroa Evenhuis,
2009 (fly) From hihi, "eyelash, whisker" + roa,
Taino: Zea mays L. (maize) "Mays"
(variously spelled) is the Taino word for the plant.
Tamil: Anathana Lyon, 1913 (tree shrew).
From the Tamil name moongil anathaan, "tree
Tehuelchan: Alnashetri Makovicky,
Apesteguía & Gianechini, 2012 (theropod dinosaur)
Derived from the Günün-a-kunna dialect of Tehuelchan,
meaning "slender thighs".
Tlingit: Caurinus tlagu Sikes & Stockbridge,
2013 (scorpionfly) Tlagu means "ancient, of the past";
the name is given to honor the place where the insect occurs (Prince
of Wales Island), its people, and the apparent great age of the
genus. [ZooKeys 316: 35]
Tok Pisin: Juncus nupela Veldk. (rush)
nupela = "new thing". [Blumea 23: 415]
Toraja: Waiomys Rowe et al. 2014 (water
rat) From the Toraja word wai, "water" (+ Greek mys,
Tugen: Orrorin Senut et al. 2001 (hominid)
Meaning "original man".
Tupi: Tapejara Kellner, 1989 (pterosaur) = "old
Turkish: Caracal caracal (African/Asian
cat) from "karakulak", "black ear".
Twi: Sankofa pyrenaica
López-Martínez & Vicens 2012 (Cretceous
dinosaur egg) "Sankofa" is a Twi (Ashanti) word meaning "learn from
the past." The egg was discovered in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Ute: Yurgovuchia Senter et al., 2012
(theropod dinosaur) from the Ute yurgovuch, meaning "coyote", a
predator of similar size from the same area.
Vietnamese: Lanonia (A.J. Hend., N.K. Ban &
N.Q. Dung) A.J. Hend. & C.D. Bacon (palm) Vietnamese la
non is the local name for the hat palm, L. centralis, used
to make conical hats.
Welsh: Talpohenach Kay and Cartmill, 1977
(fossil primate) from talp o hen ach
, "Piece (lump, fragment)
from an ancient lineage"; also an
Wyandot: Ondatra Link, 1795 (muskrat) from
its Wyandot name.
Xhosa: Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis Gess,
2013 (Devonian scorpion) The root emzantsi- derives from
the genitive of umZantsi, isiXhosa for "south", sometimes used
to refer to South Africa. [Afr. Invert. 54: 377]
Zande: Niumbaha Reeder et al. 2013 (bat)
The name means "rare" in the language of the Azande people of South
Sudan and DRC. Only five specimens have been recorded.
Zulu: Bonisa nakaza Gosliner, 1981
(gassflame nudibranch) Nakaza means "to adorn with beautiful
Zuni: Jeyawati 2010 (hadrosaur dinosaur)
The name, pronounced HAY-a-WHAT-ee, is derived from Zuni words meaning
Other root languages are represented in names that were given probably
after the root name was westernized.
Amharic: Equus zebra (zebra) zebra = "zebra",
adopted partly through Portuguese and Dutch.
Basque: Lainodon orueetxebarriai (upper
Cretaceous mammal) Orueetxebarria is a common Basque family name
meaning, in part, "new house".
Hottentot: Equus quagga Gmelin 1788 (extinct South
African wild ass) quagga from "quahah", imitative of the
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