Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak       specimen@curioustaxonomy.net
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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 Bolivian language.
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 language.
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 thorax.
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 face".
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 560]
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 tree.)
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 "monkey".
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 Portuguese.
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 Australia.
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 prominent).
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) = "dew-loving".
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 genus)
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 language.
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 fierce".
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) = "small fox-man".
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 tree)
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, duck).
Marquesan: Campsicnemus aa Evenhuis 2009 (fly) From Marquesan 'a'a, "defender". See Repetition 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 site.
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 kabomani.
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 was collected.
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 Virginia.
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 tree.
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 "mouse-like deer".
Spanish: Sibon noalamina Lotzkat et al., 2012 (snake) From no a la mina!, literally "no to the mine". See Interesting Translations for more of the story.
Swahili: see Kiswahili.
Tahitian: Campsicnemus hihiroa Evenhuis, 2009 (fly) From hihi, "eyelash, whisker" + roa, "long".
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 squirrel".
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, "mouse")
Tugen: Orrorin Senut et al. 2001 (hominid) Meaning "original man".
Tupi: Tapejara Kellner, 1989 (pterosaur) = "old being".
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 anagram of Palaechthon
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 colors."
Zuni: Jeyawati 2010 (hadrosaur dinosaur) The name, pronounced HAY-a-WHAT-ee, is derived from Zuni words meaning "grinding mouth".

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 animal's cry.

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