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Names by which domesticated animals are known

Those animals that help their owners or those used for household tasks or kept as company, with which there is a direct and ongoing relationship, usually have their own name. Therefore, names are mainly given to cows, oxen, ewes, donkeys, mares and dogs. The custom of calling other domesticated animals by monikers has also been seen, although to a smaller extent, while the hens, rabbits, doves are called by their generic name.

When they have to be addressed directly or to encourage or prod them along when working in the field, for example the oxen or cows, they are called by their name: aida Rubio! or aida Beltza!


Different customs have been seen when it comes to naming ewes. The dominant tendency is that the sheep are referred to generically without giving each ewe her own name; there are shepherds who only name those animals that led the flock or have a unusual feature, and then there are those who name each of the heads of the flock.

The majority of the people surveyed pointed out that the ewes have their own name when there are several people in charge of looking after the flock and the names help them to work together when carrying out of the different shepherding tasks.

Cows and oxen

The close contact with the cattle and the need to constantly speak to the oxen and cows to give orders and distinguish between them when taking them out of the barn explain why they generally have been named.

Many of the names gathered in our surveys refer to the colour of the coat and the physical characteristics of the animal in question. Special mention should be made of Paloma and Chata as they are common names for cows to be found in numerous locations. The name Chato (flat-faced) for oxen is also widely used.

There are also locations where the livestock were called by their proper name (Abadiano) for the work on the farm. Then, there are others where, without excluding that possibility, the generic term of pinta (painted) was used, as the majority of them were black and white (Urduliz-B).


In general, when draught horses were bought, they were already adults and already had a name. As they had been trained and were used to their name, the buyer usually did not change it. The foals and young mules were named (Moreda-A).


Dogs were named in a great variety of ways as the preferences and whims of the owner are added, in the case of dogs, to the selection criteria indicated for other animals.

According to Azkue, dogs in our villages had Spanish names up until the 1930s: León, Listo, Linda, Sultán, Moro... From then onwards, the inhabitants of the towns began to give them Basque names[1]. Nowadays, at the end of the 20th century, Basque and Spanish names are given to dogs throughout the Basque Country.

Language and how the animals are treated

The data gathered in the field surveys show two aspects about language and the way of treating animals. The first is that they vary according to the species of animals and, obviously, the person dealing with it. The widespread belief is that it is better to address animals in a friendly way, with kind gestures and caresses as, in the same way as people, if they are treated properly, they respond better to the orders they receive.

It has likewise been seen that it is usual to be concerned about their health; the members of the household worry if the animals are ill or sad in the same way as if they were another member of the family. In general, orders are first spoken and if the animals do not obey, the farmers then resort to the more expeditious method of using a stick.

How the animals are treated

Domesticated animals in stalls are not treated in the same way when the farmer or shepherd are milking or carrying out similar tasks as in other situations when a high output is required from the animals or there is intense activity. In those cases, they have to be prodded or pushed to obtain a certain result.

Language used with domesticated animals

In the 1920s, Manuel de Lekuona published an article on language, part of which considers the language used with domesticated animals[2].

The author points out that this specific language not only consists of ordinary words, but also, to a great extent, by sounds that are difficult to transcribe. Its characteristic is that “they are sound constants, which can be pronounced without the help of a vowel, and the sounds are produced, not by expiration of the air, as is the case of ordinary constants, but rather by aspiration".


Whistling is commonly used to give orders to the livestock. It is mainly used with sheep.

Utensils to prod the livestock

This section includes instruments of different usefulness; while some are or have been essential in the performance of livestock or agricultural tasks, as is the case of the prod or whip to urge on the livestock, others have merely been used to help in household chores or looking after the livestock while they graze, such as the staff used by the shepherd or goatherder.

  1. Resurrección Mª de AZKUE. Euskalerriaren Yakintza. Volume I. Madrid, 1935, p. 50.
  2. Manuel LEKUONA. “Lenguaje empleado con los animales domésticos” in AEF, I (1921) pp. 37-42. In addition to the terms provided by our surveys used with domesticated animals, this article contains those collected by that author at the start of the 20th century. Also see Resurrección Mª de AZKUE. Morfología Vasca. Bilbao, 1925, pp. 497-498 and Euskalerriaren Yakintza. Volume III. Madrid, 1945, pp. 357-361. Some terms are also included in the “Onomatopeyas vizcaínas” section in the book by Pablo ZAMARRIPA. Manual del Vascófilo. Bilbao, 1913, pp. 186-192.