How Did the Aardvark Get its Name, What Does it Mean in Dutch, and is it Related to the Groundhog?

The Aardvark, also known by its scientific name Orycteropus afer, is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa.

How Did the Aardvark Get its Name and What Does it Mean in Dutch

It is the only living species of all Tubulidentata, and is sometimes called “antbear”, “anteater”, “Cape anteater”, or “earth hog”.

The name aardvark comes from the Dutch words “aarde”, meaning “earth”, and “varken”, which means “pig”, and it translated as “earth pig”.

It is believed early settlers from Europe thought it resembled a domesticated pig, although the aardvark is not closely related to the pig.

We can safely say that the aardvark and groundhog are not related, but thanks to a bunch of little-educated Dutch people who were in a position to give ill-informed names to animals, that’s not entirely accurate.

It turns out that the names of the two animals are very much related, dank je wel to those Dutch folks.

When Dutch settlers saw the aardvark in South Africa, they somehow decided that the hole-dwelling animal looked like a pig, so they called it aardvark, or “earth pig”.

When they saw a woodchuck in America, they somehow thought that the weird little marmot also looked like a pig, or maybe they thought it looked like an aardvark. Either way, they decided to call it an aardvark, too.

Eventually, they and the Germans incorporated the animal into a weird ceremony they had performed back in the old country, having to do with whether the animal saw its shadow on Candlemas Day, on February 2.

English speakers in the United States translated the name of the American aardvark into “groundhog.”

Unfortunately, some English speakers in South Africa did exactly the same thing in their country as well, they started calling the African aardvark a groundhog, and sometimes, a ground pig.

After more confusion regarding the two animals ensued, practicality prevailed, and most English-speakers now use aardvark only for the African animal and groundhog only for the American woodchuck, and usually only then in February, calling it a woodchuck the rest of the year.

Confused yet? The animals are not related; their names are related only because those pesky Dutch couldn’t tell a pigpen from a hole in the ground. Good.

Then let’s not get into why the aardvark is also sometimes called the ant bear and the Cape anteater.

We figure that if you’ve got a cool name like aardvark getting you into the front of dictionaries, you should probably just stick with it.

How Much Ground Would a Groundhog Hog?

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

1 thought on “How Did the Aardvark Get its Name, What Does it Mean in Dutch, and is it Related to the Groundhog?”

  1. You can’t blame the Netherlands for its weird name, back then there was no information about the ‘unknown creature’ or its evolution yet.

    That some English speakers however were so stupid to copy it’s whole name not knowing the roots of it and brought it back to their own language…

    not to start about Kangaroos

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