Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to Call Your Ladybug, Regardless of Its Nationality

How did I end up on the Wikipedia page for ladybugs? What was I looking for? I have no idea.

However, what I took away was the knowledge that these guy have a suspicious number of aliases. And here are just some of them:
  • ladybug: What we slack-jawed Americans call them today, but the usage goes back at least to the 1690s. The lady in question is the Virgin Mary.
  • ladybird or ladybird beetle: What the British call these creatures, with the first word also meaning “sweetheart.” Ladybird is also a reference to the Virgin Mary, and Wikipedia claims that ladybird came from Our Lady’s bird (which I don’t understand because I don’t see how anyone, no matter how medieval, would confuse birds and bugs). Allegedly, Mary got associated with these insects because she at one point was depicted as wearing red and not the blue she wears today at charity events and other social outings. The seven spots on the common European ladybug were thought to represent Mary’s seven joys but maybe instead her seven sorrows, depending on your mood. According to Etymonline, the British aversion to ladybug could stem from associations across the pond between the word bug and sodomy.
  • Marienkäfer: The German word for the insect. It literally translates to “Mary beetle,” so hey — guess what, Britons? The Germans agree with Americans that ladybugs aren’t birds. Ha!
  • Lieveheersbeestje: The Dutch term and a contraction of Onze Lieve Heer Beestje, it means “the diminutive beast of our Lord.”
  • Bête à bon Dieu: The French term, similar to the Dutch term, translates as “the good beast of God.”
  • Bóín Dé: The Irish term, allegedly meaning “God’s little cow,” is purported to be a corruption of the French term, but it’s also purported in superscript that a citation may be needed, so make of that what you will.
  • Buggobar: Despite the apparent British aversion to anal sex, this term is cited as being used in “the home counties of England,” whatever that means. The term is weirdly similar to bugbear and bugaboo, both of which use a very Middle English sense of the word bug that means “scary.”
  • ladycock: Alleged by Wikipedia, but I’m tempted not to touch this one.
  • lady cow: Which just seems redundant.
  • lady fly: I swear I’m not making these up.
  • Coccinellidae: The scientific name for the biological family, it was the Latin term for the creature, and it comes from the Latin word coccinus, “dyed scarlet” or just “scarlet,” which in term came from the word coccum, a berry or insect used to produce red dye. 
  • mariquita: the Spanish word for the creature, and despite the apparent etymological tie to the Virgin Mary, it also means “faggot.” Thanks, Spanish!
  • Himmelsdéierchen: Because I always like to end on an obscure but uplifting note, I’m giving you the Luxembourgish, in case you’re ever in the area and your life depends on your ability to name this particular insect. The literal translation is “little heaven animal.” So there you go. You’re welcome in advance.


  1. Your post inspired me to look it up in Japanese. They are called tentoumushi (something that I should have remembered as a fan of BattleBots), which translates to "sun bug". They are named this because they fly towards the sun, or at least that's what the Japanese Wikipedia page tells me.

    1. Aww. Sun bug. How pleasant. I wonder what's behind the worldwide conspiracy to make these bugs seem pleasant.

      (I was once attacked by them.)

    2. Yeah, I remember riding the elevator in my dorm, looking up, and seeing a huge grouping of ladybugs. They definitely can be creepy.

  2. Anonymous7:52 PM

    The Irish term seems to be on decent etymological ground, so to speak. If it helps at all, there's a tiny bit in the long-titled book linked below on ladybirds (pages 398 and 399).

    1. I will take that. Thank you for posting.

  3. Anonymous2:07 PM

    Ladybird was in use first - it might not be a bird but then a brazil nut isnt a nut - the things flies like a bird so just deal with it.

    I wasnt aware the english had any particular aversion to anal sex - think you might have made that one up in your own head

    I live in the home counties - never heard buggobar in my life. Bugger, however, if a different matter and does refer to anal sex

  4. Regarding the Irish "God's little cow", I can't speak for the Irish, but I don't find it difficult to believe because it's the literal translation of божья коровка from Russian, an expression that has equivalents in a bunch of other Slavic languages, and פרת משה רבנו which is the Hebrew, borrowed/adapted from Russian and other Slavic languages, and means literally Rabbi Moses' cow.