Monday, January 23, 2012

How elephant might have got its names हाथी का नामकरण कैसे हुआ होगा

In the time machine once again, this time to witness the naming of elephant. Our ancestors are amazed to see a unique animal with a “hand” in addition to four legs! It picks its food with 'hand' and puts in its mouth. It is also using the 'hand' for drinking water. Absolutely amazing! The wise in the clan decide to use HAST (हस्त), the Sanskrit word for hand to name the animal as HASTI (हस्ती). HASTI is conveyed to future generations as HATHI after simple mutations:
HASTI हस्ती (Sanskrit)
HAHTI हहती
HATHI हाथी (Hindi)

But the HATHI also gets a nick name. Its fatness is a phenomenon for our ancestors. Some of them talk about this animal not for possession of a ‘hand’ but for being fat. The Sanskrit word PHULLA means dilated, expanded, blown. PHULLS and its variations are used as nick-names that keep changing and become very popular.  

PHULLA फुल्ल (= blown/ inflated in Sanskrit)
PHEELA फ़ील (Arabic)
PEELU पीलू (SKT)
PHULLA फुल्ल (= blown/inflated in Sanskrit)
PHULLIT फुल्लित (= blown/inflated in Sanskrit)
PHULLINT फुल्लिन्त (= blown/inflated in Sanskrit)
PHULANT फुल्लन्त (= blown/inflated in Sanskrit)
AAPHULANT आफुल्लन्त (=very much blown in Sanskrit)
AALIPHANT आलिफंत (interchange of positions of letters)
ELEPHANTUS (Latin)> OLIPHANT (Old French) >OLYFAUNT > (Middle English)
ELEPHANT एलिफंट (English)
Somewhere else our ancestors admire its long teeth that it uses for defense and they exclaim in Sanskrit: RAKSHA.DANT (defense teeth)
RAKSHA (=defens) + DANTA (teeth)
LUXODONTA (Greek word used to coin Latin zoological name of African Elephant. It means ‘oblique-sided tooth)
We are back from the time machine.
Let’s see what the dictionary says about what we saw in our journey:

World English Dictionary
elephant  (ˈɛlɪfənt) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
[C13: from Latin elephantus,  from Greek elephas  elephant, ivory, of uncertain origin]  

Word Origin & History

c.1300, olyfaunt, from O.Fr. oliphant, from L. elephantus, from Gk. elephas (gen. elephantos) "elephant, ivory," probably from a non-I.E. language, likely via Phoenician (cf. Hamitic elu "elephant," source of the word for it in many Sem. languages, or possibly from Skt. ibhah "elephant"). Re-spelledafter 1550 on L. model.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper


  1. Naming an animal by its most distinguished feature is the most convincing and right thing to do

  2. Came across this today? Would be wonderful if you add the story of Gaja as well? Is it related?

    I also read somewhere that not having a original word for animal in Sanskrit means the animal was foreign to the first speakers. Does that make sense?

    1. Welcome to my blog.
      1. Gaja seems to be a corrupt or simpler form of the Sanskrit word 'garja' गर्ज that means roar, thunder. It is also one of the Sanskrit synonyms of elephant!. It will add it to the blog post.
      2. Theoretically, you are right that "not having a original word for animal in Sanskrit means the animal was foreign to the first speakers". However, I find that names of all animals in all parts the world can be derived from Sanskrit words on the basis of their most import attributes. That would mean that all inhabitants of the ancient world were speakers of either Sanskrit or languages derived from Sanskrit. Please blog posts on penguin, camel, panda, anaconda, donkey, horse, kangaroo etc.