The Name Game — January - February 1997

by Janice Welsh

a knot of toads

Most people know that fish hang out in schools and sheep gather in flocks. But have you ever heard of a pride of lions? How about a kettle of hawks or a charm of finches? The English language has more than 1,000 names for groups of things.

The names for groups of fish and wildlife date back to the Middle Ages,when knights and lords on horseback chased all kinds of animals. Many of the words used to describe groups of animals were hunting terms. Hunters might pursue a dray of squirrels, a fall of woodcock, or a spring of teal. Herd is one term people still use to describe a group deer, cattle, or elephants.

 

Where Do Names Come From?

a colony of ants

Many names for clusters of critters are listed below. As you look at the names, think about what might have led someone to choose a particular one. The choice might have been inspired by:

  • An animal's action - a leap of leopards
  • A sound the animal makes - a murmuration of starlings
  • A repetition of word sounds - a gaggle of geese
  • What people think about the animals - a richness of martens
  • The animal's home - a nest of rabbits
  • What the gathering looks like - a knot of toads

Some names are mistakes. A school of fish, for example, was first called a shoal of fish. Fish gather in a shoal, a shallow place in a river or lake. A long time ago someone translated shoal of fish as school of fish and passed it along.

an exaltation of larks a murmuration of starlings

army of frogs
bale of turtles
band of gorillas
bed of clams, oysters*
bevy of quail, swans
brace of ducks
brood of chicks*
cast of hawks
cete of badgers
charm of goldfinches
cloud of gnats*
clowder of cats
clutch of chicks*
colony of rabbits, ants, gulls, bats*
company of wigeons*
congregation of plovers
convocation of eagles
covert of coots
covey of quail, partridge*
cry of hounds

down of hares
draft of fish
drift of swine
drove of cattle, sheep, pigs
exaltation of larks
flight of birds
flock of sheep, geese, ducks*
gaggle of geese
gam of whales
gang of elk
grist of bees
herd of cattle, deer, elephants, horses, sheep*
hive of bees*
horde of gnats
hover of trout
husk of hares
kettle of hawks*
kindle of kittens
labor of moles

a bale of turtles a hover of trout

leap of leopards
leash of fox
litter of pigs, cats, dogs*
murder of crows
murmuration of starlings
muster of peacocks
mute of hounds
nest of vipers, turtles, hornets, fish
nest, nide, or nye of pheasants
pack of hounds, wolves, mules*
parliament of owls
pod of whales, seals*
pride of lions*
raft of ducks (on water)*
rafter of turkeys
school of fish*
sedge of cranes, bitterns, herons
shoal of bass
shrewdness of apes
skein of geese

skulk of foxes
sloth or sleuth of bears
sounder of boars, swine
span on mules
spring of teal
stud of mares
swarm of bees*
team of ducks, horses, pigs, oxen
tribe of goats
troop of kangaroos, monkeys
volary of birds
walk of snipe
watch of nightingales
wedge of swans
wing of plovers
yoke of oxen

* group names commonly used by wildlife biologists

a flight of cormorants a paddling of ducks

Take the Name Tag quiz!

A complete copy of the article can be found in the January-February 1997 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, available at Minnesota public libraries.

Janice Welsh is coordinator of the DNR's Project WILD, a program for schools. Much of the information in this article comes from An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition, a book written by James Lipton and published by Viking Penguin, 1991.