From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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The most widespread way of referring to domesticated animals and, more specifically, to the cattle, horses and mules in Basque speaking areas is abere. Studies link this term with the Latin habere, in its sense of “property” or “possessions”, with many of its derivatives having the same meaning as head of large livestock or herd animal[1]. Many of the ways of calling those animals adopt that form (abere- or abre-) or abel-, which comes from it. Forms near to the Spanish, such as ganadu and animaliak, are also used to refer to livestock in general.

In keeping with other languages of our cultural environment, aberats means a rich or wealthy person, in other words, the holder of considerable possessions. And precisely another of the names for large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep in Basque - azienda­ comes from the Spanish word "hacienda" (in its sense of property or possessions)[2]. The term azienda larri, for the large livestock (cattle, horses and mules), and azienda xehe, for the small livestock (pigs, sheep and goats) comes from there[3]. A similar classification is abere nagusi and abere txiki, which refer to the large livestock[4] and the small livestock, respectively.

The animals can also be named using a colour. Abelgorri (abere gorri or azienda gorri) usually refers to cattle. Parallel examples can be found in Spanish, such as the expression rust coloured cows (Améscoa, San Martín de Unx-N). The term abere beltz is widely used to refer to pigs.

One of the ways of classifying animals within each type of livestock is according to the age. The information gathered in our survey indicates the widespread use of the compounds of –eme (female) and –ar (male) to refer to adult animals according to their sex, compared to the nouns ending in -(ku)ume that, generally, refer to young animals that still have not reached breeding age.

The ways of naming each of the components of the species varies considerably both from zone to zone and according to the greater or lesser extent to which this type of livestock has become traditionally entrenched. Particularly noteworthy is the plethora of terms referring to the raising of sheep, cattle or pigs, which the expressions for keeping ducks or rabbits are very few and limited[5].

Wild animals, in contrast to the domesticated ones, are called piztiak in Basque, even though this term is also sometimes used expressively for stabled animals. Conversely, the word basabere can also allude to animals in the wild. In some areas of Bizkaia, domesticated animals in general are called patariak. This group of animals is called kabale[6] (which may come from the Béarnese cabale and, therefore, from the Latin capitale) in the northern Basque Country (lying within France). As has previously been the case, this form can be used in expressions that indicate the lot of an owner.

Names of the animals according to species, age and sex


The organisation of the names of the animals in each species has been divided into two main groups, young and adults. In principle, the names follow within the first group an ascending order of the age of the animals, and the terms first appear in Basque and then in Spanish in both. However, the differences are sometimes not clear and there are terms in both languages mixed due to their similarity and names of adults and young also in a single section.

It is noteworthy that identical names recorded in different towns refer to different content and apply to animals of different ages, in other words, that the names used do not have a unique meaning. It should also be noted that the names attributed to the animals, particularly, before adulthood, do not match a specific age, but rather the period in question may vary significantly.

  1. Manuel AGUD; Antonio TOVAR. “Materiales para un diccionario etimológico de la lengua vasca (I)” in Anuario del Seminario de Filología Vasca «Julio de Urquijo», XXII-1 (1988) pp. 282-283.
  2. Manuel AGUD; Antonio TOVAR. “Materiales para un diccionario etimológico de la lengua vasca (V)” in Anuario del Seminario de Filología Vasca «Julio de Urquijo», XXIII-2 (1989) pp. 516-517
  3. Julio CARO BAROJA. Etnografía histórica de Navarra. Tomo I. Pamplona, 1971, p. 270.
  4. The status that this type of large livestock had in the traditional realm seems to have produced linguistic phenomena of great semantic and historical import, as pointed out by Julio Caro Baroja: “A very characteristic feature of the Basque spoken in Salazar and El Roncal was the use of gende = people, to refer to different types of animals. Thus, abregende is horse livestock overall; ilagende, sheep; bilagende, goats; cherrigende, pigs. This example is similar to what Virgil did when speaking about horses and use the Latin gens to express the idea of breed in general”. Ibidem, p. 270.
  5. Along with other assets of the house or the community, such as the house itself, the land, wooded upland and mountains, the farmland, bread, wine, etc. the sheep and cattle, along with the dogs, donkey or cats are precisely the property most cited in studies on the corpuses of Basque everyday speech. See Patxi JUARISTI. Ondasunekiko harremanak Justo Mokoroaren Repertorio de locuciones del habla popular vasca esaera bilduman. Leioa, 1995, p. 122. Unpublished doctoral thesis.
  6. Manuel AGUD; Antonio TOVAR. “Materiales para un diccionario etimológico de la lengua vasca (VI)” in Anuario del Seminario de Filología Vasca «Julio de Urquijo», XXVII-2 (1993) p. 647.
  7. We then report on the terms, gathered in our field surveys, used throughout the Basque Country, to refer to the different types of livestock according to the criterion of age and sex. It is not a detailed list of the different uses that can be seen in all the documents on the subject, but rather we will only mention the forms contributed by the people surveyed that answered the question explicitly raised in the ethnographic survey, or the expressions collected from the ethnographic materials considered to be the basis for this atlas. The aim has been to group the names according to the lexically related families, or when the information on the word is not sufficiently important, by age groups. The final section also provides all the information on a group of animals where only fragmented data has been gathered.