How the Beaver got its name.

Following saturday’s blog on Beavers, I was curious to know how the Beaver got its name.

Apparently it has a very long history. A long extinct language has been reconstructed from existing languages,  called Proto Indo European. This language is thought to have been spoken around 5500 years ago.

The word babhrús still exists in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. This over time became Beaver.

The word has a number of meanings. It has become the word for bronze-brown, which may reflect the amazing colours that can be found in beaver pelts. Another meaning for the word is Ichneumon. When I saw this I wondered what Beavers had to do with parasitic wasps. So I was surprised to read that Ichneumon is the ancient Greek name of a mythical beast. This beast was the legendary deadly enemy of the dragon. The Ichneumon (which in Greek means tracker), on seeing a dragon, covers itself in mud (to create armour), covers its nostrils with its tail, at which point it attacks and kills the dragon. The story has obvious similarities with the mongoose/snake story retold by Rudyard Kipling as Rikki Tikki Tavi . The Romans called the Ichneumon Calcatrix, which became the legendary Cockatrice.

It seems to me that our ancestors with their limited zoological knowledge combined the behaviour of the Beaver with the Mongoose to create the legendary Ichneumon. Either way, the Beaver held a very important place in the spriritual world of these prehistoric societies.

That may explain why it elicits such strong reactions (for and against) in these modern times.

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
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