A haddock by any other name would smell as … fishy.  But why is a halibut a halibut and a shrimp a shrimp?  The origins of many of these names are as poetic as they are descriptive.

Halibut – means “holy flat fish,” (hali = holy, and butte = flat fish in old Germanic languages) probably from the practice of eating fish on holy days or for fasts that required the abstention from red meat or poultry, a practice whose ghost is still evident in the menus of diners: clam chowder on Fridays.

Salmon – while some theories trace this name to Celtic, others draw a line back to Latin and the word salmonem, possibly from salire, meaning “to leap.”  This etymology muses on the strength of salmon swimming up rivers and jumping in the ocean: leaping.

Scallop – while English borrowed this word from the French escalope, meaning “shell,” the name goes back much further to an old Norse word: skalpr, meaning “sheath.”

Lobster – not the most appetizing of origins, this word comes from a corruption of the Latin locusta, meaning “locust” – and the Old English word loppe, which meant “spider.”

Shrimp – comes from an old Norse word meaning “a skinny person” – skreppa.

Tuna – one of Americans’ favorite fish, tuna, were called “tunny” up until the late 1800s, when Californians shifted the name.  Originally, it came from a Greek word that meant “darter,” or “to dart along.”

Albacore have an even better story, with a name coming from Arabic via Portuguese: al bakara, “big tuna,” means literally “camels or young heifers,” referring to the large size of the fish.

Oysters share a history with bones, not surprisingly – both take their names from the Greek ostrakon, meaning “hard shell,” or “bone.”

Crab – as anyone who has handled a live one can understand, these creatures take their name from an Old English and Germanic verb krabben, or “to scratch or claw.”

Special thanks to this site for research.


The Origins of Seafood Names
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