9 Animal Names With Indigenous Origins

These animals found in Canada have names rooted in Indigenous languages. Tahiat Mahboob

Words such as totem (from Ojibway) and igloo (from Inuktitut), are easily identifiable as having Indigenous language origins. But there are many other words in the English language that have Indigenous roots. From caucus (origin: Algonquian) to hurricane (origin: Taino) to shack (origin: Nahuatl), so many words from First Nations, Native American, Central American and South American Indigenous languages have made their way into English and become so commonplace, that their origins often go unrecognized.

Bee Nation

The list of English words with Indigenous origins is long and varied and includes dwellings, food, nature, sporting goods and more. Here is a look at the names of a few animals, commonly found in Canada, whose roots can be traced back to Indigenous words:

One of Canada’s iconic species, caribou is derived from the Mi'kmaq word γalipu, which means “snow shoveller” because of the way the creature pushes away snow to feed on vegetation.

Often in the news for its bold foray into urban areas, coyote is derived from the Nahuatl word coyotl.

This neighbourhood dumpster-diver’s name is derived from Powhatan word aroughcun, which means “he who scratches with his hands.”

One of the first words that comes to mind when you think of Canada, moose is derived from the Eastern Abenaki word mos or the the Narragansett word moòs or moosu, variously translated as “twig eater” or “he who strips off (leaves and bark).”

This cool-water Ontario native, often truncated to muskie, gets it’s name from the Ojibway word maashkinoozhe, meaning “ugly pike.”

Late Toronto mayor Rob Ford once issued a dire warning about these marsupials who get their name from the Powhatan word aposoum, meaning “white beast.”

A nuisance in big cities but a help to farmers with regards to pest control, the origin of the word skunk can’t be pinned to one Algonquian language. In Mohegan it’s skonks, in Lenape it’s škakw, in Wampanoag it’s squnck, and in Abenaki it’s segankw.

Sockeye (Salmon)
These Fraser River residents, get their name from the Halkomelem word suk-kegh, which means “red fish.”

These rotund rodents are found throughout Canada, from coast to coast. There’s some ambiguity about the origin of the word woodchuck but it’s usually attributed to the Ojibway otchig or the Cree otchok or wuchak.