How Did the Butterfly Get Its Name?

One theory is that Europeans called this insect the butterfly because of its yellow color.

Personally, I always thought this beautiful insect should be called a flutter-by, not butterfly. Although, sometimes I call them special words I cannot post here when they don’t cooperate when I am trying to photograph them.

Some think the butterfly got its name because many of the European butterflies were the color of butter and thus named butterfly. But there are many butterflies in Europe that have a plethora of colors like those here in the new world.

It is said that in early mid-evil times in Europe, cows produced milk after their calves were born in the spring. Some of the milk was churned into butter at the same time that the butterflies appeared and thus the word butterfly was born.

Another story is that witches disguised as butterflies would fly to the farms steal the farmer’s milk and butter.  Because butterflies undergo changes, they were associated with witches that could change into butterflies.

The Russian word for butterfly translates to “bowtie”and the Greek word means “soul”. The old English word for butterfly is buterfleoge that translates to “butter flying” creature. The old Dutch word for butterfly is boterschjte which literally means “butter shit”! Oh my! This is because the color of its excrement is an oily yellow. You know, now that I think about it, I never saw a butterfly take a dump. Actually, butterflies don’t so I have no idea how this one came along.

Food for Thought….

The old German word for butterfly is botterlicker that translates to “butter licker” so let’s go with this thought. Male butterflies are attracted to mud puddles where they suck up some of the water to take salts and minerals. This is important because the males integrate these nutrients in their sperm. When the sperm transfers to the female so do the salts and minerals. This improves the viability of the eggs. Could it be that, in early European times, male butterflies entered open windows, found the butter and sucked up the salts and minerals? And thus were called butter lickers because of that? There is no evidence that I can find to support this, but it sounds plausible.

What do you think?

2 comments on “How Did the Butterfly Get Its Name?

  1. I’m going with the Old English buterflēoge from butere (“butter”) + flēoge (“fly”) based on the old notion that the insects (or witches disguised as butterflies) consume butter or milk that is left uncovered.
    I also find that keeping the butter near (or even blending it with) garlic or cilantro keeps the witches away…


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