How Many Names Do You Know for Groundhogs?
By Veronica MacDonald Ditko
An Accidental Anthropologist
Groundhogs have been in the spotlight lately, thanks to Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck. What these furry creatures are called actually depends on what part of the country you are from. I have informally analyzed them below (please note that I not a linguist!):
- Gopher: Who can forget Caddy Shack? Anyway, the origin is unknown and could be named after gopher tortoises. It’s been around since 1791, according to Merriam-Webster’s.
- Groundhog: May have been a translation from the Dutch aardvarken, meaning “earth pig.” It’s probably northeastern U.S. in origin due to the Dutch settlers.
- Ground squirrel: A more scientific classification, since they are related to squirrels.
- Land beaver: Due to the fact that they resemble a beaver, and beavers live in all of North America except warmer states, the nickname could have started anywhere.
- Marmot: Related to the Latin name for the groundhog, Marmota monax. They are usually associated with mountainous and alpine regions.
- Monk: This is a name I had never heard before, but since male groundhogs are very solitary, you could say they live a monk-like existence.
- Pasture pig: Since Southerners love their bacon, I would think that is where this started. But, like groundhog, it could be translated from the Dutch aardvarken, meaning “earth pig.”
- Prairie dog: Probably Midwest in origin due to the prairie lands out there.
- Varmint: Anywhere they are a nuisance! According to Dictionary.com, this word is chiefly used in Southern and South Midland US.
- Woodchuck: Thought to come from a Colonial corruption of the Cree Indian name “otcheck.”
- Whistling pig: Related to the noise yellow-bellied marmots emit. The live in southwestern Canada throughout the western United States including the Rockies, Sierra Nevada and intermountain west. Origin is anyone’s guess in these areas.
I affectionately called the rotund groundhog that lived under our porch Tubby. I liked him until he ate my spinach even though there was a fence around it. But I felt a bit sorry for Tubby, who seemed to live alone, but I found out that is perfectly normal for males, even ones who are daddies.
We contemplated removing him humanely from our yard after he kept digging up flowers (a rag soaked in ammonia by his home entrance was said to do the trick). However, we never had to force Tubby out. Nature got him first. We noticed the stench coming from under our porch one day. We never actually checked, but we assume Tubby died peacefully in his sleep one night. We certainly hope that he did not get the skunk poison that our neighbors left out across the street!
That poor little gopher ground hog ground squirrel land beaver marmot monk pasture pig prairie dog varmint wood chuck whistle pigged animal!
Veronica MacDonald Ditko is originally from the Jersey Shore, but married and settled in northern New Jersey. Her journalism career started a decade ago after studying Psychology and Anthropology in Massachusetts. She has written for several newspapers and magazines including The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Springfield Union News and Sunday Republican, Happi, Chemical Week, The Hawthorne Press, The Jewish Standard, Suite101.com and more.
Article originally published February 1, 2011