There must be a reason why guinea pigs are called guinea pigs. The most obvious reason would be that guinea pigs are actually pigs. But is that really the case? Are guinea pigs actually pigs, or at least related to pigs?
Are guinea pigs actually real pigs? Guinea pigs are not real pigs. They are not even closely related to pigs. Both animals belong to completely different scientific families. Guinea pigs belong to the Caviidea family, while pigs belong to the Suidae family. The reason why guinea pigs have their name has nothing to do with any relation to pigs. The actual reson for their name is not clear, but there are some theories about it.
So guinea pigs are not pigs and not even closely related to pigs. But are there other animals with which guinea pigs are closely related? And how did they get their name if they are not pigs? Do they at least rightly carry the guinea part in their name? And are they called pigs only in English or also in other languages?
In the following chapters, we take a closer look at these and other issues.
Table of Contents
Are Guinea Pigs Real Pigs?
Guinea pigs and pigs have nothing to do with each other. They just both have the word pig in their name.
In the case of one, it is because they are pigs. With the other one, it’s more of a strange coincidence. Someone at some point saw a connection between guinea pigs and pigs for some reason.
There may be more or less good reasons for this, which we will discuss later. However, the similarity of the names has nothing to do with any form of relationship.
What Family and Order Do Guinea Pigs Belong to?
Guinea pigs belong to the family of Caviidae, the family of cavy, and to the order of Rodentia. In everyday life, the latter are simply called rodents.
What Other Animals Are Caviidae?
The family Caviidae consists of three subfamilies. On the one hand from the Caviinae, to which also the guinea pig belongs. Then there are the Dolichotinae and the Hydrochoerinae. There are several animals in these subfamilies, but the best known are certainly the guinea pigs.
Some other animal species in these subfamilies are:
- Guinea pigs (Cavia)
- Yellow-toothed cavies (Galea)
- Mountain cavies (Microcavia)
- Maras (Dolichotis)
- Capybara (Hodrochoerus)
- Rock cavy (Kerodon)
What Other Animals Are Rodentia?
The order of Rodentia consists of various animals. Many of them are very popular pets. The most famous are:
- Prairie dogs
What Family and Order Do Pigs Belong to?
Pigs belong to the family of Suidae and to the order of Artiodactyla, better know as even-toed ungulates.
What Other Animals Are Suidae?
Even though guinea pigs are not closely related, pigs have many other close relatives. Most of them are rather obvious relatives:
What Other Animals Are Artiodactyla?
A lot of animal belong to the order of Artiodactyla or even-toed ungulates. The most popular ones are certainly the following ones:
What Animals Are the Closest Relatives of Guinea Pigs?
The closest relatives of guinea pigs are of course other members of the family of Caviidae and the subfamily of Caviinae. Those include several types of mountain cavies (Microcavia) and yellow-toothed cavies (Galea). Mountain cavies are the smallest animals in the closest guinea pig family.
The next closest relatives belong to the family of Caviidae, but to different subfamilies. These are the subfamilies of Dolichotinae with animals like the maras and Hydrochoerinae with members like the capybaras.
The closest relatives that don’t belong to the family of Caviidae are the are:
Why Are Guinea Pigs Called Guinea Pigs?
You may be surprised to learn that the pig part of the name is not the only one that is actually wrong. The Guinea part does not match reality either.
So these poor, sweet animals have been completely misnamed. But what is the origin of the two wrong parts of their name?
Fun fact: It's not just that the name of the species has to do with pigs. The names for female and male guinea pigs are also inspired by pigs. Thus, female guinea pigs are called sows and male guinea pigs are called boars.
The Guinea Part
The exact origin of the Guinea part of her name is not known. However, there are three plausible theories as to where this part may have come from.
The first theory is that guinea pigs were transported through Guinea on their way from South America to Europe. People in Europe at that time therefore thought that they also originally came from Guinea.
The second theory refers to the fact that in England, many exotic places used to be called simply Guinea. It was probably a kind of collective term for foreign, exotic places.
The third theory assumes that it is simply a transmission error. There is an area in South America called Guiana. Guinea pigs actually live there. So it could simply be that the first guinea pigs arrived in Europe from Guiana, and the name changed somewhere along the way from Guiana to Guinea.
Which of these theories is most likely is really impossible to say. It is also very likely that it will not be possible to clarify whether one of these theories is correct, or perhaps the name has a completely different origin. But each of these theories sounds at least plausible.
The Pig Part
Also the origin of the pig part of her name can no longer be clarified exactly. Probably it is related to one of the characteristics of guinea pigs, which resembles those of pigs.
In question are the physique of guinea pigs with a head that is quite large in relation to their body, a stocky neck and the rounded rump. And guinea pigs live in groups, just like pigs.
Another theory refers to the sounds that guinea pigs make. These are perhaps very roughly similar to the grunting of pigs.
Guinea pigs also like to eat very much and often, just like pigs. And just like pigs, they are omnivores. Perhaps this has contributed to their being called pigs.
In What Other Languages Are Guinea Pigs Called Pigs?
It is an interesting fact that guinea pigs have the word pigs not only in their English name, but also in many other languages.
Whether it is because the name was adopted from one language to other languages, or all countries where guinea pigs have the word pig in their name had the same idea, is not known.
Anyway, it is so, and this is a really funny fact, I think. Especially when you consider that guinea pigs have nothing to do with pigs. Let’s have a look at some of the languages where guinea pigs have the word pig in their name:
- Chinese: 豚鼠 – túnshǔ (pig mouse) or 荷蘭豬 – hélánzhū (Netherlands pig)
- Danish: Marsvin (Sea pig)
- Dutch: Guinees biggetje (Guinean piglet)
- French: Cochon d’Inde (Indian pig)
- German: Meerschweinchen (little sea pig)
- Hungarian: Tengerimalac (maritime pig)
- Italian: Porcellino d’India (Indian pig)
- Polish: Swinka morska (sea pig)
- Portuguese: Porquinho da Índia (little Indian pig)
- Russian: Морская свинка – morskaya svinka (marine pig)
- Swedish: Marsvin (Sea pig)
- Turkish: Ginepig (Guinea pig)
The Turkish name actually seems to have originated from a simple adoption of the English word. In this process, the original pronunciation was used as a basis. We call this process an orthographic transcription.
But there are also languages where the name of the guinea pig refers to other animals.
For example, in Spanish guinea pigs are called conejillo de Indias, which roughly means small Indian rabbit.
In Japanese, guinea pigs are called モルモット – morumotto. This name comes from the Japanese word for marmot.
Guinea pigs are definitely not pigs. They are not even closely related to pigs. They have some characteristics that might remind someone of pigs, which could be the reason why they have been called pigs.
However, from a biological point of view, the two types of animals really don’t have much in common. But there are at least some interesting theories as to why guinea pigs are named the way they are. And it can be fun to ponder how on earth they got their name.
But the most important thing is that they are just cute and lovable animals.