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Funny German Animal Names Posted by on Mar 14, 2018 in Language

Guten Tag! We have talked before on the blog about how ‘literal’ German words can be. Check out this blog post, and this one, for some examples. Today I’d like to continue on that theme with a post about animals. You are probably familiar with a few German animals, such as die Katze (cat), der Hund (dog) and der Hase (rabbit). But when you go beyond the common pets, you’ll find that a lot of animals have incredibly literal, often amusing names in the German language!

In German, a pig is das Schwein. But German has many different kinds of pigs:

das Stachelschwein
Porcupine
lit. ‘spike pig’

das Wasserschwein
Capybara
lit. ‘water pig’

das Meerschweinchen
Guinea pig
lit. ‘little ocean pig’

das Seeschwein
Dugong
lit. ‘sea pig’

der Schweinswal
Porpoise
lit. ‘pig whale’

Capybara

A capybara or ‘water pig’ (Wasserschwein). Photo by tanyadurrant on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Moving away from pigs, here are some more, interesting German animal names:

der Seehund
Seal
lit. ‘sea dog’

der Truthahn
Turkey
lit. ‘threatening chicken’ (‘trut’ from Middle Low German ‘droten’ meaning ‘to threaten’)

die Nacktschnecke
Slug
lit. ‘naked snail’

der Tintenfisch
Squid
lit. ‘ink fish’

die Fledermaus
Bat
lit. ‘flutter mouse’

die Schildkröte
Tortoise
lit. ‘shield toad’

Slug

A slug, or ‘naked snail’ (Nacktschnecke). Photo by Jan Kaláb on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Right now, you might be thinking that German is a very lazy language when it comes to naming its animals! With some animals, it goes one step further by simply naming a feature or characteristic of the animal and following this up with the word ‘Tier’ – the German word for ‘animal’:

das Faultier
Sloth
lit. ‘lazy animal’

das Gürteltier
Armadillo
lit. ‘belt animal’

das Murmeltier
Groundhog
lit. ‘mumble animal’

das Schnabeltier
Platypus
lit. ‘beak animal’

das Stinktier
Skunk
lit. ‘stink animal’

Sloth!

A sloth, or ‘lazy animal’ (Faultier). Photo by thornet_ on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Other German animal names to look out for include der Dachshund, the little German ‘sausage dog’ whose name actually translates to ‘badger dog’. You can read all about the Dachshund in this blog post by Larissa. The other is der Igel, which often catches people out because it is pronounced like the English word ‘eagle’. Don’t be fooled: an Igel is, in fact, a hedgehog! The German word for eagle is der Adler.

I hope you’ve found this interesting! Can you think of any other German animal names with incredibly literal and/or interesting translations? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Bis bald!

Constanze

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Christine Friedrichsmeier:

    So funny and cute! When I was about four years old, I had picked up on this animal naming and was so proud when I thought I’d figured out by myserlf what a butterfly was called – “butter-fliege”. My mom practically killed herself laughing…. Schmetterling. Yup… never forgot that one! 😀