Unicorns and Thoughts Thereon (Online since 1994)

A Unicorn by Any Other Name

In my pursuit of unicorns, I've managed to gather a collection of translations of the word "unicorn". Well, really, it's not translation most of the time, since most of these simply mean "one horn". What these are is the name by which unicorns are called in other languages.

Some of these are from Robert Vavra's Unicorns I Have Known, but many more were shared with me by folks on the net and elsewhere, and it has taken many years to collect these. This is, as far as I am aware, a unique collection.

German Einhorn French licorne
Latin unicornus Spanish unicornio
Italian alicorno (or liocorno)
unicorno (# see below)
Norweigan enhjørning
Polish jednorozec Arabic karkadann
Japanese ikkakujuu (kirin)* (** see below) Chinese k'i-lin (**see below)
Greek monokeros Russian yedinorog
Finnish yksisarvinen Dutch eenhoorn
Lithuanian vienaragis Esperanto unukornulo
Portuguese unicórnio Swedish Enhörning
Hebrew Had-Keren Latvian vienradzis
Welsh Uncorn Romanian inorog

* According to a correspondant, the Japanese kirin is actually not a unicorn, but another sort of mythical beast, and the modern definition of kirin is actually a giraffe! I've listed kirin still because, well, tradition, I guess, but the name given there outside the parentheses is the closest my correspondant could get to the modern usage for the beast commonly understood as a "unicorn".

** From Jocelyn, another correspondant:

I chanced upon your page and I found the chinese Qilin & Japanese Kirin listed as types of unicorns. They are not unicorns, but chimerical creatures that holds very important and very significant roles in the tradition and religon of the Chinese and Japanese people.

It is a very common Western misconception that they are unicorns, but alas, they are not. They are closer to the dragon, if they have to be compared to a creature.

Japanese kirins and Chinese Qilins are actually represented with 2 horns in temples and religious statues, not one. Single horn kirins/qilins are modern, contemporary versions, albeit very inaccurate. There are a lot more trivia about qilins and kirins. A tattoo artist with deeply religious background; he served a stint as a monk, shared it with me when I had a tattoo of a kirin done on my back. Oh. And I'm Chinese, with Japanese ancestry.

# From deliolith:

I'm italian and we do not call Unicorns as you posted, Alicorno or Licorno [editor note: have fixed that]. Alicorno is the name of the horn as it was called in Middleages (it's a word pretty much unknown to most people). The word Licorno is not correct, it is Liocorno but it's not widely used (you'd only hear it in traditional songs).

Feel free to provide more information or corrections. I don't speak Japanese (or any other language aside from English, with the exception of a little bit of Spanish and a tiny bit of German). I can't always verify firsthand each and every translation I'm given, so if you know better than me, hey, I'm happy to listen, and happy to share the information!

If you know what to call a unicorn in a language I don't yet have listed, please do drop me a line and tell me what it is. I do update this page when I get new tidbits of information.

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