How did animals get their names?

Just as we have names, so do animals. Unlike human beings, most animals are named according to some characteristic. Some animals owe their names to their shapes while some others to their peculiar habits. Most dictionaries start with the word aardvark, in fact, the word is not English but an African one, meaning ‘earth-pig’, which is a very appropriate name for this mammal. It is a great digger and is about the size of a farmyard pig. A name like ‘hippopotamus’ is actually a descriptive name. In Greek, ‘hippo’ means horse and ‘potamus’ means river. So hippopotamus is a ‘river horse’. The word ‘rhinoceros’ comes from Greek. In Greek, ‘rinos’ means nose and ‘keras’ means horn. Because this animal has a horn on its nose, it is called rhinoceros. The word ‘leopard’ has been derived from the Latin word leopardus that means a ‘spotted lion.’ Some names of animals have regional significance. For example, the word camel comes from Arabic ‘jamal’, and giraffe from ‘zirafah’, which means long neck. The names like ox, cow, bull and deer have AngloSaxon derivations. The name cat comes from the Latin word ‘gata’. The duck is so named because this bird ducks in water. An old English word ‘duck’ means diver. The name wolf comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘wulf’ which means a kind of fox. Since wolf resembles a fox, it was given this name. The name cheetah comes from the Indian word ‘cheet’ meaning dots. However, it is not possible to provide an explanation for the origin of every animal’s name because the list is almost endless.

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