For most children, some of the first words they learn (after mama, dada and a few others) are usually animal names. This is especially true in families where pets are a big part of the family. When a little one calls the family pet “doggie” have you ever thought about why we call the animal “dog” to begin with? We’ve put together the origins of several common animals so you can better understand the why’s behind the wags and purrs!

Cat

The common name for the scientific name felis catus is a simplified version of the latin “catus.” “Felis” is the group name for all felines (lions, tigers, cats, panthers, etc.) Catus refers to household cats. It makes perfect sense that we call cats, cats. However, there are other names for felines that are a bit trickier. Consider “puss” which is believed to have been derived from the sound one makes to call a cat. Kitty is derived from “kitten” or a young cat.

Dog

The domesticated dog has the scientific name canis lupus familiaris. Therefore, calling it a dog doesn’t harken back to that latin name. Instead, we call a dog a dog based on the Middle English word dogge, which came about from the OLD English word form docce which means muscle. Evidently, the muscular body tone of working dogs of that era is what helped develop the name we use today.

Bird

The scientific class name of birds is aves. That explains why we call the group avians and a home for birds an aviary. But, why do we call the feathery animals birds? Once again, this name harkens back to Old English. The Old English word bird was originally a collateral form of “bridd” which referred to a young avian or a nestling. It is suspected that the change in spelling just occurred over time, as time has a way of morphing words.

Horse

Nearly everything referring to horses uses a form of the scientific name Equus. However, we commonly call the large animal a horse, why is that? In reality, this is one is quite a mystery. Evidently, the word horse began showing up in historical documents around the 1100’s but didn’t develop a more consistent spelling until the 1200’s. One “guess” as to why the name horse began being used was in reference to the High German term Hros, which means “to run.”

Pig

The name pig is derived from Old English, where swine or hogs were often called pig. In the early days, the word pig only referred to young animals of this species, as older animals were “swine.” Swine was directly derived from the scientific genus name – Sus. As an aside, the sound used to call pigs “soo-ie” also derives from this genus name.

Our animal friends certainly have interesting stories behind their names. Perhaps with this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to answer questions from your little ones or you can win that trivia game next time you have family game night.