Animal Names in Disguise

Animal names are hot these days: We mean flat-out animal names such as Bear, Fox, and Wren used for children.

But there is also a – well, can we say herd? pack? – of names that are much more subtle about their animal connections.

These names have animal meanings but you’d only know that if you read a name dictionary.  Discovering their secret animal connection is likely to prove delightful for a child given one of these attractive names.

While the list of names with animal meanings is longer than this – here’s a full list of animal names for boys and one of animal names for girls – we’ve picked some of our favorites.

Arthur – bear

This classic Celtic name has, after hitting a low in 2010, turned upward and may be heading back to the Top 20 status it enjoyed a century ago.  Cited as a possibility for the upcoming royal baby, Arthur is a kingly choice with the bonus creative nickname Art.

Auberon – bear

Also spelled Oberon – the spelling Shakespeare used for his king of the fairies – Auberon may also be related to Aubrey.  Perhaps because Aubrey is now the #20 name for girls in the US but has fallen off the Top 1000 for boys, we see the originally male Auberon as working for either gender.

Aviana – bird

This modern variation of the Latin Avis has flown into the Top 1000 on the strength of actress Amy Adams choosing it for her daughter.

Callum – dove

Callum, a Scottish form of the ancient Latin saints’ name Columba, is extremely popular in the UK but newly discovered in the US.   This name with a peaceful meaning may also be spelled Calum.

Destry – war horse

Say Destry and you’re likely to hear the response “rides again.”  This French surname-name, used for the male hero of that Western film, was chosen for their daughter by Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg.

Dov – bear

Sounds like one animal but means another: This Hebrew name, popular in Israel, has an outward gentleness and a fierce secret core.

Garcia – bear

The popular Spanish surname Garcia makes a melodic first for a child of either gender.  An ancient surname-turned-first, some sources give the origin of Garcia as Basque and its meaning as “young.”

Jonah or Jonas — dove

The Hebrew and Greek versions, respectively, of the same gentle name, whose most famous bearer was the inspiring Biblical hero who escaped from the belly of the whale.

Leonie — lion

Lion names are among the most fashionable with animal meanings.  While many — Leon, Lionel — are a bit close to the actual animal name for this post, we must mention the lovely Leonie, popular throughout Europe but still a rare delicacy in the US.

Lonan – blackbird

This unusual but accessible Irish name is an original replacement for the ubiquitous Logan.

Lowell – young wolf

The patrician-sounding surname Lowell, which could be an honorific for poet Robert, has a fierce secret meaning.

Madigan – little dog

This unusual Irish surname may be reminiscent of the hugely popular Madison but is much more distinctive and works equally well for children of either gender.

Merle — blackbird

The French Merle fell off the Top 1000 in the US in the 1950s for girls and the 1970s for boys, which may make it a perfect choice for revival by the adventurous parent.  There’s a famous namesake for each gender: country singer Merle Haggard and actress Merle Oberon.

Orson – bear cub

The adorable Orson, which hasn’t been on the Top 1000 since 1901, is already being rediscovered by hip parents such as actress Lauren Ambrose.  Director Orson Welles is an inspirational namesake.

Paloma — dove

The Spanish Paloma is one of those names that’s familiar enough to be easily understood and accepted — it’s been on the US Top 1000 for nearly 20 years — but still unusual enough to be distinctive: It’s barely risen above the Top 700.  And we love the peaceful dove connection.

Phelan — wolf

Another ancient Irish surname with a soft sound and a fierce animal meaning.

Rachel – ewe

Rachel was a Top 25 name for nearly a quarter century, from 1978 until 2001, and now is sliding down the charts.  But its Old Testament significance makes it a classic perennially worthy of consideration.

Rudy – famous wolf

Rudy doesn’t get as much name respect as it deserves, perhaps because Rudolph is so difficult as a long form, or maybe due to its connection to the word “rude,” but we see it as cute and original for either sex – a fresher spin on Jude or Ruby.

Tabitha — gazelle

The Biblical Tabitha may still be a bit too Bewitched for some parents, but we love its combination of softness and strength — and there’s no more appealing animal association than the beautiful, swift gazelle.

Tala — wolf

Tala is a Native American name that’s both simple and stunningly original, a feminine choice with a strong meaning.


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37 Responses to “Animal Names in Disguise”

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SugarPlumFairy Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 12:18 am

Nice list! Although I think some of these meanings are a little off:

– Auberon is a form of Aubrey/Alberich (“elf power” – a name from germanic legend). Nothing to do with bears.
– Garcia is an old Basque name with several debated meanings, none of which is “fox”.

maddiejadore Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 2:05 am

Beautiful names, though I wouldn’t be brave enough to use most of these

apollonia44 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 4:07 am

What Native American language does Tala mean “wolf” in? It doesn’t say in the database entry. Just Native American isn’t a language, but a wide group of languages. (Tala means “gold” in Persian, by the way.)

nat108 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 6:04 am

I like Todd (fox) and Channing (wolf)

Garcia means bear, not fox

pam Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 6:30 am

Apollonia44, your question sent me on a research quest and indeed, though Tala is widely cited as “Sioux” for wolf, that does not in fact seem to be the case in any of the languages spoken by the Sioux people. (We do sometimes classify Native American and African languages as well as others under these broad umbrella categories to make searches easier.)

While I find a lot of wolflike characters and zoo wolves named Tala, I can’t find confirmation that Tala means wolf in Lakota or any other Native American language. Can anyone help untangle this?

Aurra Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 8:02 am

Other names:

Adolph means noble wolf, but its pretty much out of the question

Alouette is French for lark.

Aya is Hebrew for bird

Deryn is Welsch for bird

Lupe is Spanish for wolf

Halcyon is Greek for kingfisher bird

Callum means dove

The Columba set of names (Columbia, Columbine) mean dove

Conan means little wolf

kyemsma Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 9:07 am

My favorites are Callum, Arthur and Paloma.

Heatherann Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 9:18 am

My brother-in-law is from South America. He said that Paloma can also mean “pigeon”. Not as cute as “dove”.

Flick Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 9:25 am

99.99% of “native american” names you find on name sites are complete bull. Also – just listing names under an umbrella term is kind of like a slap in the face. That’s like saying “Oh, we don’t care to actually do our research into the language the name derives from, so we’re going to list it under an umbrella term”….sorry, but that’s just lazy and it’s no wonder why there are so many “names” floating around that are listed as Native American that are not based in any real Native American language.

LexieM Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 10:04 am

Flick thanks for the link.
I really love the idea of hidden animal names. Very cute!

pam Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 10:28 am

Flick, we certainly don’t intend to slap anyone in the face, and the reason to group names under these umbrella categories is not laziness but trying to create a manageable interface for navigating the site.

As I’m sure many of you know, there is often a lot of disagreement about the origin and meaning of names. Auberon, for instance, may mean elf-like but is also listed by many sources as meaning noble bear or bearlike. We stand by that meaning.

UselessKitty Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 11:38 am

I love animal names. My son’s middle name is Wolf. I especially like Auberon, Aviana, Leonie and Tabitha!

SugarPlumFairy Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Yes, but what “many sources”? On the top of my head, I can’t think of any European language (Latin, Germanic, Greek, Slavic, Gaelic) where the word “bear” would lead to Auberon. Most baby name books and websites are completely wrong about origin/etymology and Nameberry is guilty of this. When it comes to the point where you list names by their made-up/wishful-thinking meanings (not even debated ones, but obviously wrong ones, like Imogen meaning “beloved child”) you are not only being innacurate but also deliberately misleading expecting parents who are your costumers. Frankly, as “baby-name experts” you guys have the responsibility to be as precise as possible. /end rant

More Animal names:
Delphine (“dolphin”)
Jelena (“deer”)
Philippa (“horse lover”)
Rosamund (“horse protection”)
Ylva (“she-wolf”)

Astor (“hawk”)
Corbin (“raven”)
Everard/Everett (“brave boar”)
Lev (“lion”)
Lyall (“wolf”)
Ronan (“little seal”)

mariah778 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 12:02 pm

You forgot Ronan!! “Little seal”

Flick Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Thats like taking European names and putting them all under the same umbrella. Yes – manageable, but kind of stupid and offensive. I’m Seneca and my language and culture is different from Navajo, why would they be under the same thing?

jame1881 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I’m going out on a limb here, and hopefully won’t get a lot of smack for it, but I’m guessing the main reason “Native American” names are lumped together is that very few Native American tribes had a written language. There is, therefore, no recorded evidence of the usage of the names in whatever tribe. Also, in the 1800s, several Native American tribes were pushed together in Oklahoma, no doubt making it difficult for an outsider to distinguish one tribe from the next.

UniqueNameLover Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Great list. Leopold/Leon, Arthur and Tabitha are on my long list, and I adore Paloma and Jonah.

Taz Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Glad to see my daughter’s name, Leonie! We have so much lionstuff- hats, onesies, toys, ect but recently I mentioned the connection to lions & my friends hadn’t realized it was her name they thought we just collected them!

I hope for a second daughter one day and Teal is at the top of my list. Can’t wait to start a duckie nursery. I wish you had mentioned that one too. Sweet, preppy, distinct & unisex..I love Teal!

apollonia44 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Pam and Link, thank you for your replies. I must admit I do find it rather odd (and quite concerning) that on many baby name websites and books Native American, African and Aboriginal Australian names are rarely identified by their specific language. Using generalized labels such as “Celtic”, “Slavic”, “Scandinavian”, etc. to describe European names without identifying the specific language also irks me. But I do understand that it can be hard to find accurate sources on names from some languages.

Now back to the list. Paloma is one of my favourites, and I also like Leonie.

apollonia44 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 4:42 pm

^And of course, even if specific languages are identified that doesn’t mean the meanings listed are correct, as evidenced here:

Flick Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Appolonia, I linked that same resource, it’s very insightful.

Also, I am aware that it is difficult to find real native american names, espeically in some of the smaller languages, but as “experts”, you should probably find a decent source or just not list it.

apollonia44 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Flick, I totally agree with you. If they list things they can’t verify then it just spreads disinformation.

apollonia44 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 5:38 pm

^ To Pam or Linda, I apologize if that sounded harsh or rude, but there is so much incorrect information about Native American names on the ‘net.

pam Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Thanks, Apollonia44, we appreciate that. And we hope everyone appreciates that we try our best to research names and include the best, most reliable information in a format that’s easy to navigate. We would love to include more and better information on Native American names. You should write a guest blog on the subject!

JennyJenJen0123 Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 8:11 pm

How exactly is Leonie pronounced? Leo-nee; LAY-o-nee; Lay-O-nee; Lee-O-nee; Leo-NEE; or something else altogether?

ScarlettSensibility Says:

January 15th, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Typo alert: I think you mean Destry is the child of KATE Capshaw and Steven Spielberg. Jessica Capshaw is a daughter from a previous marriage, Spielberg’s stepdaughter, and an actress in her own right.

ruolan Says:

January 16th, 2013 at 12:30 am

Adolph does have a great meaning with unfortunate connotations. What if it was Adolpho or Adolphus? O and latinate names have been popular lately so both would combine the trends. Plus, I just saw a young man (17) named Adolfo.

Phillip/Phillipa and Lowell are my favorites!

ruolan Says:

January 16th, 2013 at 12:57 am

and don’t forget Evelyn means “bird” or “little bird”

arunciblespoon Says:

January 16th, 2013 at 5:26 am

Just realised that two of my favourite boys names Edward and Arthur would make a lovely set of twins, with one having bear as a nn and the other meaning bear.

Alouette and Evelyn are adorable and Merle and Orson are lovely.

skizzo Says:

January 16th, 2013 at 8:11 am

Arthur is such a dusty name, don’t see it’s appeal at all.

Poppaea Says:

January 16th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Sorry, but Evelyn does not mean “little bird.” It’s Irish and related to Eileen; the meaning is more like “hazelnut”, I think. So, still a nature name 🙂

Name meanings are fascinating to those of us who love languages and the idea of a bunch of sounds having a “secret” meaning in some other world. That said, there is a ton of bad information floating around out there about name meanings, and while I love Satran & Rosenkrantz and your innovative take on name books, getting the meanings right is not your strong suit. You are brilliant at fashion trends and I think less interested in linguistics. Sooo … lots of tolerance is in order here. Readers of the site/books should realize they’re not getting the best info on meanings and languages of origin and do their own research. Satran & Rosenkrantz have to realize that a lot of people love name meanings, take them very seriously, and get annoyed when misinformation and misconceptions are perpetuated. Nobody’s perfect!

Flick Says:

January 16th, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Poppaea, this is why it annoys me that they sell themselves as “experts”. Sorry, but listing opinions does not make you any more of an expert than anyone else with an opinion. I agree – they write great books and they nail style down really well – but that does not make you an expert on names.

Im-Megan Says:

January 20th, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Our kids are called: Ruth, Neil, liam, Paula and my 21 month old is named …Orson! So hsppy to see it on this list! it could use some love.:) It took me about a year to like it but I love the “O” and it’s not a popular name. At all.

Punchbuggy Says:

January 22nd, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Also what about famous Animal characters?

Jemima the Puddleduck (Jemima also means Dove)
Benjamin Rabbit
Charlotte – from Charlotte’s Web
Mickey Mouse
Tom & Jerry


LexieM Says:

June 26th, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Appolonia44 – I’m so with you with the need to differentiate. Can’t tell you how frustrated I m with sites that list names that are Germanic in origin a German. I’ve definitely penned one or two very blunt emails explaining the differences and why it’s important to differentiate.

Maybe the best option would be to list names as “specific language, Native American”. Pam wouldn’t that help solve the interface problem and still allow for the correct sourcing many crave?

I really like the spirit of this blog and love disguised names in general on,y recently have actual word names begun to grow on me.

Kateri Says:

January 14th, 2015 at 12:04 am

I adore Orson and Leonie.

kashed22 Says:

January 14th, 2015 at 11:57 am

I’ve just skimmed the comments, but I haven’t seen any mention of Ursula- “little bear”. Perhaps it is not very popular on nameberry, but I love it and think it is underrated.

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