Animals that Live up to Their Names

You only have to learn a little of one language – any language – to realise just how intertwined they really are. Whether you choose Dutch, French, Italian or Mandarin, you’ll soon see that a whole bunch of English words take inspiration from others across the world.

This is evident in our names for certain animals, as their translations can be taken quite literally.


Known to us as an ‘aardvark’, the name translates as ‘earth pig’ (from Afrikaans).


The name comes from the French for ‘pig’ (porc) and the Latin for ‘thorny’, resulting in a literal translation of ‘thorny pig’.


The name ‘porpoise’ comes from the Latin words for ‘pig’ and ‘fish’. In fact, it seems as though a lot of animals could be described as a pig!


The rhino translates to ‘nose horn’ in Greek; simple and self-explanatory, it does stick out like a sore thumb!


Originally called mawas in Malay, the orangutan got its name by accident. Translated as ‘man of the forest’, the Malaysians have now added the whole word ‘orangutan’ to their dictionary.


The hippo has the most bizarre name yet, as it doesn’t really suit this hulk of a beast at all. Translated as ‘river horse’ from the Greek ‘hippos’ (horse) and ‘potamos’ (river), it doesn’t exactly accurately describe the stout water dweller. Maybe they fancied a change from ‘porco’ but still, ‘river pig’ may have been a more accurate way to describe the hippo.

Other animal name translations include:

  • Octopus – eight feet
  • Flamingo – flaming red
  • Ferret – little thief
  • Squirrel – shade tail

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