the bass pelican and other names

Northern gannet, Morus bassanus, family Sulidae

We tend to forget, in our cultural bubbles, that most living things have many names. Gannet names, for example, tell a story of how humans have responded to this magnificent seabird in ways which reflect local uses, geography, folklore.

bassanus is from Bass Rock, Firth of Forth, home to the world’s largest colony of the species.

Morus from ancient Greek moros, meaning foolish – birds were unafraid and therefore easily caught.

Gannet (Old English ‘ganot’ – strong/masculine)

Atlantic gannet

Great booby (booby from C16 Spanish pooby – blend of ‘poop’ or ‘befoul’, and bobo, Latin, ‘stuttering’)

Spotted booby

Saithor, Zethar/Saethwr (Cornwall from Cornish, ‘arrow’, reflecting their diving outline)

Gant, Gaunt (possibly from Greek ‘to yawn’. Wide gapes)

Sula (from Old Norse meaning cleft stick, referring to crossed black wing-tips against white plumage; or from Sulao – ‘to rob’ or ‘spoil’)

Solan goose, Solan (Shetland), Soland (Gaelic ‘suil’ or eye – sharp sighted referring to ability to see through the water)

Guga (young bird, Ness, Scotland, where Gannets are still hunted for food)

Parliament goose (young with ‘wig’ of down on head)

Ian Ban an Sgadan (Gaelic – ‘the white bird of the herring’)

Amhasan, Amhasag, Asan (Gaelic)

Morfran (Welsh, ‘arrow’)

Gwydd Lygadlon (clear-eyed goose), Gwylan Hafssula (Welsh)

Bergshammar, Suula (Finnish)

Bass-TÖlpel, Schottengans, Seerabe (sea raven) (German)

Jan van Gent, Basaangans (Dutch)

Fou de Bassan, Fou Tacheté (French, speckled)

Boubie, Harenguier, Marga (Normandy French)

Alcatraz (Spanish. Meaning pelican from Arabic for sea eagle)

Ganso-patôla, Mascato, Fascão (Portguese)

Sula bianca (Italian)

Olusha-glupish (Russian, ‘simpleton’ or ‘dolt’)

Old Latin names: Pelecanus bassanus, Pelecanus masculatus, Sula bassana, Sula alba, Sula americana, Sula lefevri, Sula hoieri, Moris bassana, Morus bassanus, Sula melanura, Sula vulgaris, Sula major.


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