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.”
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.
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.