Ever wondered how the barracuda got its name?  Or the pomfret?  Does the basa sound like an Indian name to you?  What does one mean by ...

Know Thy Seafood

28 April 2016


Ever wondered how the barracuda got its name?  Or the pomfret?  Does the basa sound like an Indian name to you?  What does one mean by crustaceans? 

Here’s a look at the origins of some of the names of the aquatic animals belonging to the ‘seafood world’ along with some interesting facts that you may or may not know about them.

To begin with, the obvious one -

1. Seafood

The term seafood includes fresh and saltwater fish and shellfish.
Literally meaning food that is sourced from the sea; sea + food.  Of American English origin, this term is expected to have first been used in the early 19th century.  The term applies to all freshwater and saltwater edible aquatic animals.  In cooking lingo, the terms seafood and fish are used interchangeably, both mean edible fresh or saltwater fin-fish, molluscan shellfish, and crustaceans.

According to The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ article on fish consumption, published on 31 January 2011,“The contribution of fish to global diets has reached a record of about 17 kg per person on average, supplying over three billion people with at least 15 percent of their average animal protein intake.” It further reports that, “Overall, fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of an estimated 540 million people, or eight percent of the world population.”

2. Fish

“Fish remains among the most traded food commodities worldwide, worth almost $130 billion in 2012”- The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: Report highlights growing role of fish in feeding the world, published on 19 May 2014, Rome.
This word has originated from the Old English word fisc, which is derived from Proto-Germanic ‘fiskaz.’

As mentioned earlier, the term fish is used interchangeably with seafood to describe all edible aquatic animals.  Humans mostly eat only the non-toxic varieties of fish.

3. Crustaceans

Crustaceans: crabs, shrimps and lobsters
The Latin root being crustaceus which means ‘having a crust or shell.’  The word crustacean is said to have first been used in 1835.  

Crustaceans are anthropods family that have segmented bodies which are supported by an external skeleton, instead of internal bones, known as the exoskeleton.

4. Anchovy

Anchovies are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans
Originates from the Portuguese anchova, which probably is a modification of the Latin word apua which means ‘small fish’, from the Greek aphye meaning ‘small fry.’  First known use of the word is supposed to have been in the late 16th century.

Anchovies are small and slender saltwater fishes.  They have a pointed snout and their mouth extends beyond their eyes.  During the Roman era, anchovies were used for making a fermented fish sauce called garum.

5. Barracuda

Barracudas are prefer to swim near coral reefs in warmer, coastal regions.
Barracuda, the name, has American Spanish origin.  Probably first used during the 17th century.

A saltwater predatory fish, barracudas are commonly found in tropical and subtropical waters.

5. Basa

Basa is a freshwater fish.
This member of the catfish family, found in abundance in the Mekong River, has got its name from the Vietnamese word for the species. It is also now cultivated in coastal Andhra Pradesh, India.

Basa fish have a stout, rounded body.

6. Crab

Crabs have 10 legs
From Middle English crabbe, a modification of Old English crabba, probably derived from Old High German krebiz.  Is first expected to have been used during the 12th century.

Crabs are found both in freshwater and saltwater.  The armour-like shell of these crustaceans is made of calcium carbonate.  They are omnivores.

7. Halibut

Halibuts are demersal fish
Called ‘haly-butte' in Middle English, this fish used to be eaten on holy days in the early 15th century. ‘Butte’ translate as flatfish and ‘haly’ probably stood for ‘hali’ as in ‘holy.’

Like all fish, when the halibut is born it has eyes are on both sides (right and left side) of their head, however, during larva development one eye moves to the other side if the skull.  This metamorphosis causes the halibut to have both eyes on the same side of the body.  Since these fish are bottom-dwelling, living and fishing near the bottom of the ocean, this natural adaptation helps them catch their food more effectively.

9. Lobster

Lobsters are found in all the world’s oceans
From Old English loppestre, loppe ‘spider’, a modicificatio of Latin locusta, lucusta "lobster, locust.” Earliest known use is said to have been before the 12th century.

Lobsters have blue blood (no, not because they’re of noble birth ;) ).  Their blood is blue due to copper containing hemocyanin.

10. Octopus

The octopus has arms and not tentacles
From Latin octopod, derived from Greek oktōpous, okto translates to eight and pous means foot so it literally means ‘eight-foot.’ First known usage was in 1758.

These ocean-dwelling creatures have three hearts.  Two hearts function to move blood to the octopus’ lungs and the third one works to circulate blood throughout the body.

11. Pomfret

In India, Pomfret is found in abundance along the west coast (Gujarat down to Kerala),
and the east coast (Orissa and lower West Bengal).
Pomfret, a modification of pamflet, was probably derived from French pample, which in turn originated from Portuguese pampo.  The earliest known use of this word is expected to have been in 1813.

This salt water fish has a flat body and a deeply forked tail.

12. Prawn

Like other crustaceans, prawns also have 5 pairs of legs
From the Middle English prane.  The earliest known use of this word was sometime during the 15th century.

Prawns are found in both in salt and fresh waters. They are now also cultivated inland in brackish water. The fresh water prawns are more commonly known as Scampi.

13. Rohu

Rohu is called Rui, Ruee, Tapra
Rohū is a Hindi name, first known to have been used in 1829.  Scientific name: Labeo Rohita.

This cultivable freshwater fish native to South Asia, belonging to the carp species, has now been introduced to some other regions of Asia and Africa.

14. Salmon

Most salmons go back to the river where they were born to spawn
The origins of this name are supposedly from Anglo-French samoun, derived from Old French salmon, which probably originated from Latin salmonem.  Expected to have first been used in the early 13th century.

Salmons are famous for swimming upstream for spawning on gravel beds of rivers.  When they’re young they live in the river, then migrate to the sea, and then make the journey back to the river to spawn.

15. Snapper

Snappers inhabit the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans
The snapper probably gets its name due its big molars.  Earliest known use of this word is supposed to have been in 1587.

These carnivorous, large, schooling fishes are well-known for their sharp teeth.

16. Squid

Squid are found in both warm tropic and lower temperature waters
Although the origin of the name squid is unknown there’s a possibility that it is derived from the word squirt, due to its ability to squirt out ink.  First known use is supposed to have been in 1613.

Squids are found in all the world’s oceans and can survive out of water for a relatively long time.

17. Trevally

Trevallies prefer to swim close to the seabed
The origin of the name of this marine and freshwater dwelling fish is uncertain.  This name was probably first used in 1871.

This predatory fish is commonly found in abundance in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

18. Tuna

Tuna is one of the most popular seafood across the globe
American Spanish origin, from Spanish atun, probably derived from Latin tunny.  Expected to have first been used in 1555.

Tunas are known to make long journeys.

19. Trout

Trouts are usually a freshwater fish
From Old English trūht, derived from Late Latin tructa, probably from Greek trōktēs which literally translates to gnawer (nibbler).  Expected to have beed used as early as the 12th century.

Like salmon, some types of trout make a journey to the sea and come back to their freshwater habitat to spawn.

20. Tilapia

Tilapia is a warm water fish
The name of this freshwater fish is derived from Modern Latin.  First known use was in 1849.

The tilapia is a fish of historical significance.  As mentioned in our previous blog post, ‘A Brief History of Seafood’, these species of fish were one of the first to have been cultivated by early civilisation of Egypt.

If you have some fun facts or stories about seafood then why not add it into the comments section below?


Bibliography -
  1. Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. Oxford English Dictionary
  3. New World Encyclopedia
  4. Merriam-Webster
  5. Labeo rohita (Hamilton, 1822). Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme, 
  6. News Article: Fish consumption reaches all-time high, published on 1st January 2011, Rome, The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

Image Credits

Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: Seafood
Image Credit: Fish
Image Credit: Crustaceans
Image Credit: Anchovy
Image Credit: Barracuda
Image Credit: Basa
Image Credit: Crab
Image Credit: Halibut
Image Credit: Lobster
Image Credit: Octopus
Image Credit: Pomfret
Image Credit: Prawns
Image Credit: Rohu
Image Credit: SalmonLists
Image Credit: Snapper
Image Credit: Squid
Image Credit: Trevally
Image Credit: Tuna
Image Credit: Trout
Image Credit: Tilapia

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