How Some Animals Got Their Names

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18. MEERKATThe word animal derives from a Latin word for a breath or soul, anima. Although it first appeared in English in the late 14th century, it remained fairly uncommon through to the 1600s, when its use as a replacement for the older word beast—which once referred to any living creature, but today has wilder, more ferocious connotations—won through. Beast, in turn, was adopted into English from French sometime around the early 1200s. But just as it was eventually superseded by animal, beast itself took over from deer, which was used fairly loosely in Old English to refer to any wild animal. Put another way, the history of animals and beasts is all a bit confusing—though thankfully, the individual names of different kinds of animals aren’t nearly as confusing. That’s not to say however they don’t have their own stories to tell, though.

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