Why Are Guinea Pigs Called Guinea Pigs? (Facts )

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Why Are Guinea pigs called guinea pigs? (Facts + Pictures)

Guinea pigs are perfect as a first pet for a busy adult or for families with small children. But the very first question that kids will ask their parents: why are guinea pigs so-called, and why they do not look like real pigs.

In this article, we will let you on some versions of the origin of the name of these rodents.

How A Rodent Became A Pig

These cute rodents come from the mountainous region in South America, from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and southern Colombia. In the harsh conditions of the Central Andes, many different representatives of the mumps family have long-lived, and, as genetic studies have shown, about 5 thousand years ago, local residents decided to breed rodents for their needs. And after several millennia, figurines of guinea pigs appeared.

More than one hundred years passed, and with the help of targeted selection, species of guinea pigs were bred, which differed from wild relatives in greater mass and decorative appearance. Basically, the Indians ate domesticated rodents or used them in sacrifices and fortune-telling by the entrails. At the same time, it was important that the domesticated guinea pigs were donated to the gods, since, according to local beliefs, only what was received by hard work should be donated to the deity.

Why Are Guinea Pigs Called Guinea Pigs? (Facts )

The first Europeans who learned about the animals unknown in the Old World were the Spaniards. From numerous local tribes, conquistadors and missionaries received information about funny rodents like rats or rabbits, which the natives bred as meat breeds. To the conquerors who tasted exotic meat, its taste was reminiscent of a suckling pig. Perhaps that is why in Europe they began to call overseas animals pigs.

Another possible reason is that guinea pigs make funny sounds that resemble the grunt and squeal of a pig. And they constantly chew on something, like real pigs. This is due to the peculiarities of the digestive system, due to which pups have to eat greens often, but in small portions. The comparison turned out to be so successful that the word appears in most of the names of this species in various languages ​​of the world.

In any case, in their historical homeland, guinea pigs are still a delicacy and a source of dietary meat, which in its taste is close to rabbit or chicken. In Peru alone, up to 65 million rodents are eaten every year.

When And Why Guinea Pigs Were Called Guinea Pigs

Why Are Guinea Pigs Called Guinea Pigs? (Facts )

Everything is explained quite simply: the first animals appeared in Europe thanks to English, Dutch and Spanish traders, and they arrived there by sea. In Germany, the rare animals were named Meerschweinchen, which literally means “guinea pig”. From the German lands, the funny name moved to Poland, where it began to sound like świnkamorska, and from there it came to Russia in the form of tracing paper.

 

Important! Guinea pigs still know how to swim, although they are not as enthusiastic about water procedures as their larger relative, the capybara. In the water, fluffy pups just stay on the surface and try to get out on solid ground, so you should not expose your pet to stress. And you definitely do not need to launch elderly, weak or overweight animals.

Where Did The Name “Guinea” Come From

Why Are Guinea Pigs Called Guinea Pigs? (Facts )

In itself, such a phrase causes no less bewilderment than the already asked question of why the guinea pig is so called. It would seem, where is Guinea, a former French colony on the west coast of Africa, and Peru, where the guinea pigs originated. There is an assumption that the ships of the traders brought rodents to Europe after stopping in Guinea.

There is another theory: the name of the pet is not associated with the country, but with an old gold coin – a guinea, which was given for an exotic animal. Or, once in the English language, the word “Guinean” had a meaning close to “overseas”, that is, it meant “exotic”, “rare”.

And, finally, the simplest explanation: the usual confusion occurred, and instead of Guiana, a country in South America, where the fluffs come from, the word Guinea was fixed in the minds of the layman. After all, they were both French colonies.

The Trick Of The Priests

One of the witty versions of why rodents from South America in Europe were attributed to sea animals is associated with the peculiarities of monastic life. According to church ideas, eating meat awakens base passions and voluptuousness in a person. Therefore, in addition to bread, cereals, beans, and herbs, monks were allowed to eat (with very rare exceptions) only fish. However, many were unable to withstand all the hardships of monastic life on bread and water alone.

Interesting! In the Middle Ages, monks bypassed the ban and argued that waterfowl and birds did not quite fall under it, since they were created by the Creator on the same day as fish. This allowed the brethren to calmly feast on beaver meat.

A similar trick was later applied to the guinea pig because there were many monasteries in Germany, Spain, and France.

Aristocrats And Guinea Pigs

Why Are Guinea Pigs Called Guinea Pigs? (Facts )

To a lesser extent, linguistic games touched England, in which the Reformation began at the whim of, and under his daughter Elizabeth I it was finally established in society. Church lands were confiscated and monasteries were closed. Here the pigs did not have to be eaten or renamed.

And the British, well-known animal lovers (the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in this country appeared almost half a century earlier than the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children), kept cute fuzzies as pets. Most of the aristocrats could afford an expensive pleasure. It is known that Elizabeth I herself had a guinea pig.

What Are Guinea Pigs Called In Different Countries

Scientifically, the animal is called Caviaporcellus, and in this name, the familiar “little pig” is combined with the word cavia, modified from the animal name cabiai. The Cabiai was so-called the pig by tribes in their homeland, in South American Guiana.

Both of these names spread equally in Europe. In England, it is used interchangeably with the term “guinea pig”. In most countries, the name of the rodent is a reference to Artiodactyla.

In France, it is called cochond’Inde, or Indian pig, and in Portugal, it is porquinhodaÍndia, meaning “little Indian pig.” The name has nothing to do with the Indian subcontinent and goes back to the old incorrect name of the American continent, which Columbus discovered under the name “India”. In China, pigs appeared thanks to the Dutch, and therefore are called Dutch (literally hélánzhū).

However, sometimes other animals are mentioned in the name of guinea pigs:

  • marmots (Japanese “morumotto” goes back to the English marmot);
  • rabbits (Spanish conejillodeIndias, or East Indian rabbit);
  • dolphins (the German dialect merswin, or dolphin, most likely appeared as an abbreviation for Meerschweinchen and arose from the similarity of the sounds that both animals make).

 

Guinea pigs have come a long way from the rugged highlands of the Andes to cozy apartment houses in which they settled as pets. And, despite the exoticism of the name, they have become one of the most popular and familiar companion animals.

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About Amanda

Passionate about animals, Amanda draws her expertise from her training as an educator, pet behaviorist as well as her extensive experience with animal owners. A specialist in dog and cat behavior, Amanda continues to learn about our four-legged companions by studying veterinary reference books but also university research sites (UCD, Utrecht, Cambridge, Cornell, etc..)

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