I was listening to NPR over the weekend, and they did a fascinating piece on a scientist who managed to breed and popularize the ubiquitous hamster. Apparently, the wee rodent was fairly common in Syria, and went by an Arabic name that translates as… Wee Rodent? Fluffball? Wheel Lover?
Nope, our friend the hamster started its life going by the name…. Mister Saddlebags. And I highly recommend this piece in the Smithsonian Magazine which tells this story (the NPR piece was an interview with its writer), not only because you get to read the phrase ‘Mister Saddlebags’ multiple times in a serious context, and know that it refers to a tiny fluffy animal that you used to have in a terrarium in your kindergarten class.
But also, let’s back it up here. Let’s back it up to Genesis, to be specific, in which it says:
19And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
So let’s imagine, if you will, this newly created world, in a beautiful garden, with a snowy-bearded biblical God overseeing as Adam stands proudly and says “You shall be called Horse. And you shall be called Cow. And you there, you shall be called… Mister Saddlebags.”
So, since the bible says it is so, I got to thinking about what other commonly named animals might have more… colorful original names. And though I cannot confirm the following, I have a pretty good feeling that these are correct.