During Vasco da Gama's trip to the south of Africa, they discovered birds never seen by European eyes before which became named as penguins in most of the European languages. But in the Arabic language, the penguin called al-batriq. If you search for the source of this word, you will find that it is historically used for naming the Christian patriarch.

So my question is when and why this name was used for naming the penguin and had Arabs even seen penguins before the Europeans?

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    I do not know if it is just a coincidence, but Albatross sounds a lot like it and it is derived from al-câdous or al-ġaţţās (a pelican; literally, "the diver") (and penguins are indeed good divers). Check en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albatross#Etymology
    – SJuan76
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 13:46
  • As Arabic native speaker, I can say that al-ġaţţās is so far from al-batriq indeed al-ghattas is pure Arabic word unlike albatriq which looks like derived from some other language
    – Mr.lock
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:05
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    This question might belong on the Linguistics.SE.
    – user18968
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 15:18
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    It isn't uncommon for a new plant or animal to be given a common name based upon an assumed relationship to a superficially similar one that is known (e.g. "corn" in English). So the name could predate encounters with a true penguin.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 16:21
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    The Arabs don't use the same words for the two concepts. The word used for a penguin is بطريق The word used for the Patriarch of the Coptic church is بطريارق I'm told also that the the Eastern Christian Patriarch takes the same name. My source is the Coptic Christian sitting next to me. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 13:18

1 Answer 1


The name al-batriq was first used by bishara zalzal in the article named al-batriq. The article is published in al-muktatef magazine on june 1878. In that article he talked about the penguin and he said "I used al-batriq as the Arabic name for this bird because in Latin it is named penguin which means the "chubby bird" and batriq means the same thing in Arabic"

Link to the orginal article

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