I just stumbled on FishBase (German mirror), a website specializing in, well, fish. What makes it of interest here is the attention given to language: not only is the search page available and searchable in many languages, but there is a page dedicated to the issue:

Claiming that the common names of fish are one of their most important attributes is an understatement. In fact, common names are all that most people know about most fish as shown by the fact that most people accessing FishBase on the Internet do so by common name.
Hence, FishBase would not be complete without common names. This fact has been considered very early in the design of FishBase (Froese 1990) and has resulted in the compilation of over 107,000 common names, probably the largest collection of its kind. It has taken us a long time, to realize, however, that each pair of ‘country’ and ‘language’ fields uniquely define a culture, and that a large fraction of what the people belonging to a certain cultue know about fishes (i.e., local knowledge) can therefore be captured through the COMMON NAMES table including these fields…
The most obvious use of the COMMON NAMES table is to identify the scientific name of a fish. Note, however, that non-standardized common names may point to more than one species. Other, less obvious, uses include:

• preserving and making widely accessible ethnoichthyological knowledge from endangered cultures (Palomares and Pauly 1993; Palomares et al. 1993; Pauly et al. 1993);
• testing qualitative or quantitative hypotheses about traditional classification schemes (see e.g., Hunn 1980; Berlin 1992; Palomares and Pauly 1993);
• enabling mutual verification of facts from ethnoichthyology and its scientific counterpart (as in Johannes 1981); and
• following the evolution of the linguistic subset represented by fish names, in space and through history, and test related hypotheses.

They have “over 200 languages in alphabetic order ranging from Adangme to Zande.” My kind of site, even if I don’t like fish.
Addendum. Thanks to Chris Waigl in the comments, I can now add the equally excellent Avibase, for birds.


  1. I used this DB to try to figure out what the local Minnesota “dogfish” is. There are so many fish named “dogfish” that it proved impossible.

  2. That first link doesn’t work — needs to end in .cfm, I believe.

  3. This goes well with Avibase, which I stumbled upon some time ago.

  4. Martin: Funny, it worked before, but now I can’t get to it either. I changed the link to a German mirror site; let’s hope that stays good.
    Chris: Thanks, that’s great! I put in “ivolga” (a transcription of the Russian word) and it sent me to the oriole page, even though on that page the Russian is only given in Cyrillic (Иволга). I’ll add it to the post.

  5. NZ Birds has proven for me a useful website. The entries are clear and informative, the illustrations are great, and there are even links to song samples.

  6. I hate to blow my own trumpet, but while we’re on the topic, I have a list of common bird names in Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese on the web (although it covers only birds in those countries). I will be converting the whole thing to Unicode in a few weeks and, in time, hope to make it into a proper database.

  7. I believe that at LH auto-trumpeting is encouraged when appropriate (as in this case).

  8. It certainly is, both encouraged and appropriate.

  9. “I used this DB to try to figure out what the local Minnesota “dogfish” is.”
    Here in Seattle it is a little shark nobody (on land) eats.
    Does the database track variations within languages? Here nobody would call salmo salmo “salmon” despite the fact that that species deserves the term most. Here we would call it some kind of anemic steelhead.
    Another dog type of fish is “dog salmon” an oncorhynchus like all the other species we do call salmon, but that is so dry and unappealing that people only gave it to dogs.
    Of course, some people have a more precise termoinology for all these fish…

  10. For those who are interested, here is a database of fish in Japanese:

  11. And I forgot to mention that you can look up all the different Japanese dialect names for fish.

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