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WHY ARE UNICORNS CALLED UNICORNS – We have the answer

Have you ever wondered to yourself, why are unicorns called unicorns?  We have.  We’ve always wondered how these amazing little creatures got their name (yeah, yeah, we can guess…. probably because they have one horn on their head).  But even if that is the case, why aren’t they called unihorns?  We thought it would be interesting to really dive in and take a better look, and figure it out.  We will answer the question, why are unicorns called unicorns?

History Behind the Unicorn

Whenever you think of a unicorn, you probably get some fantasy type picture of a beautiful creature in the arms of some maiden somewhere.  Like this:

why are unicorns called unicorns

Yeah- we think of the same thing. However, if you believe anything that Marco Polo has to say (he was a 13th century Italian explorer), that’s not what they look like at all.  In fact, after all of his travels he decided to write a book called The Travels of Marco Polo.  In it he details all of his travels and what he saw.  After he spotted a unicorn, this is what he wrote about it:

“Their hair is like that of a buffalo, and their feet like those of an elephant. In the middle of the forehead they have a very large black horn…. Their head is like that of a wild boar, and is always carried bent to the ground. They delight in living in mire and in mud. It is a hideous beast to look at, and in no way like what we think and say in our countries, namely a beast that lets itself be taken in the lap of a virgin. Indeed, I assure you that it is quite the opposite of what we say it is.”

Well, that’s certainly a different take on these magical creatures.  Makes us wonder, what in the world did Marco Polo see?  Could it have been our beloved unicorn?  Most everyone during his time also gave the standard description of the animal that we think of when we hear the word unicorn.

Another description came from Ctesias, who was a Greek historian and physician.  Ctesias was the very first person to write about unicorns and detailed his encounter with a unicorn in his book Indica that was written all the way back in 400 BCE.

 “There are in India certain wild asses which are as large as horses and even larger. Their bodies are white, their heads are dark red, and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn in the middle of the forehead that is one cubit [about a foot and a half] in length; the base of this horn is pure white … the upper part is sharp and of a vivid crimson, and the middle portion is black. … Other asses, tame or wild … do not have an ankle-bone… but these do have an ankle-bone … the most beautiful that I have ever seen…. This animal is exceedingly swift and powerful, so that no creature, neither the horse nor any other, can overtake it…”

Since his writings, most people have decided that he was actually talking about the Indian Rhinoceros.  He had never seen a rhinoceros and had never been to India, so it makes sense that he may have been slightly confused.  Which is still quite a funny comparison, because the two creatures look nothing alike except for maybe the single horn on the head part.  If we take our logic from here then we can figure out partially where the word unicorn comes from.  It’s Latin and it means one horn= uni-one and cornu-horn.  Anciently we believe that scholars were trying to come up with a Greek version of the word.  They basically took the strange rhinoceros descriptions and formed the word monokeros, which is the Greek word for one horn.  Again, we should note that some ancient writers had already described the Indian rhinoceros as monokeros.  Then the Bible came along and in it’s Latin version changed the word to unicornus, which then became the English equivalent of unicorn.

Basically the medieval writers all used every worldview as a singular allegory to Christian beliefs.  Everything in their world was tied to Christian history and doctrine, and as such they took the word and make a unicorn out of it and created the creature to stand as a symbol of Christ.  Personally, we don’t mind it.  Who cares where the creature came from.  The most important point is that it came, and we get to swoon of them on a daily basis.  We have the amazing unicorn, which continues to delight our senses and makes us giddy.

So why not unihorn?reason they are called unicorns

We still haven’t answered why it’s unicorn instead of unihorn.  We’ve already talked about it’s history and dating back to the Greeks who used
the word monokeros.  Back in the days of Old English, the h in a word sounded entirely different to the way the h sounds in our words today.  It sounded more like a Scottish ch, like in the word loch.  People generally would make the sound by scraping their tongue on the back part of their mouth (I know, I didn’t know all this before now either).  It basically sounded a lot more like the word corn and so that’s how we landed on corn instead of horn.

Again, I don’t really care where the unicorn got its name.  I LOVE these things!  Apparently the rest of the world loves them too.  There are historical writings not only from India, Greece and the Western world, but apparently there are even ancient writings from China that describe the unicorn it all its glory.  Their horns also have power to neutralize poison, heal wounds and cure sickness.  That’s not all.  The unicorn is also the unofficial animal of Scotland.  The unicorn also symbolizes feminine power, innocence and purity.  There are just so many reasons we love the unicorn and can’t get enough of them.  Hopefully this helps clear up the question, why are unicorns called unicorns?

45 thoughts on “WHY ARE UNICORNS CALLED UNICORNS – We have the answer”

  1. Tim Bennett says:

    Hello Cheyenne,

    Until you asked the question I had never thought about it…

    But then you asked…

    So then I had to know!

    A great little article. Quite riveting indeed.

    You have clearly researched this a lot and I was fascinated by your findings…

    Now I have the perfect answer should anyone ever ask me!

    It seems you are quite passionate about unicorns…

    Great job!

    Tim

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Yes Tim I absolutely love any and everything about unicorns. I know there are others like me out there so my whole purpose of this site is to share all things unicorns with other unicorn lovers.

  2. Kwasi says:

    Interesting topic. I didn’t know that much about unicorns.
    Great to learn.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Glad you could learn something from our article Kwasi, take care and Happy Holidays!!!

  3. Karina says:

    My 4 year old twin girls are obsessed with unicorns! Great post and I found it very interesting for my self also 🙂

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Thank you Karina, love to hear your twins love unicorns also. If you are ever looking for anything specific for them unicorn related just let us know.

  4. Sondra M says:

    Cheyenne, I would have been devastated had you suggested that unicorns really look like rhinoceros.  Similar to you, I really don’t care where the unicorn got its name from.   I am enjoying learning about the unicorn’s symbolism.   Maybe the fact that they symbolize feminine power, innocence and purity is part of their appeal to me.    Plus, they are gorgeous animals.    I do wonder if unicorns have a similar scent as that of a horse or if they smell sweet like cotton candy?   

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hello Sondra, and I would have to believe that unicorns smell like cotton candy, bubble gum and rainbow sherbert, not like just a regular old horse, haha.

  5. Babsie Wagner says:

    Wow, that unicorn spotted by Marco sure sounds scary.  Not sure that’s the image I would have plastered all over my granddaughters’ room.  I like the beautiful white and rainbow colored creatures she has instead, lol.  It’s so funny how we just take things for granted, and we never really think of their origins, until we read something like this.  It’s really so interesting.  My granddaughter is infatuated with unicorns, so I’m going to have her read this.  LOL.  I’m not sure she’ll like it, but she’ll have the information.  Thanks.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      So true Babsie, just doing the research we have done we have already learned so many thing that we had no idea about when it comes to unicorns. Glad to hear your daughter is in love with unicorns also. Thank you so much for stopping by out site and leaving a comment.

  6. Marika says:

    This was really interesting and fascinating to read. I have a five-year-old daughter and she just loves everything about unicorns. Now I can tell her more about where the word unicorn came from. I had no idea before. Thank you for sharing this post!

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      We love hearing this kind of feedback. So glad you were able to learn something you can share with your daughter, thank you for stopping by!!!

  7. Cathy says:

    So after reading your blog yesterday, my son came up with more questions and one of them is why isn’t it called a unihorn. I suspected it has something to do with the Latin words (like most things do) and glad to have you reconfirm this for me. It’s also interesting how ancient people confused them with Rhinoceros. I guess it must have been a peculiar creature back then.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      The intention was for it to in fact be called a unihorn, however it was a pronunciation thing that caused it to be known as a unicorn. I talked about it in the article just in case you missed it.

  8. Rick says:

    Awesome post and great information , I never realized the the unicorn had that many different descriptions written  about them or that Indian Rhinoceros were thought to be unicorns. I was aware that the unicorn was a sign of female power and purity, but I have to say I was totally shocked as to the fact that they are also the unofficial animal of Scotland. I find this little unknown fact very interesting as I have some Scottish heritage and I will be looking into it further. can you offer any more information on the unicorns relation to Scotland ? Thank you 

    Rick   

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hello Rick, in answer to your question you may want to check out the link to this article I have here for you. Pretty good history on the connection between unicorns and Scotland. Unicorns and Scotland

  9. j52powell says:

    You have presented very fascinating information. It would be quite a leap from rhinoceros to some kind of a horse with a horn, but feasible.  That linguistic explanation also makes sense.  I am aware of African languages in which some people make the sound with a harder k and others somewhere between a k and an h.  People in the same family may vary in the pronunciation of the same word.

    Greg Gutfeld, the humorist on Fox News, is a lover of unicorns.  You should get in touch with him with you post.

    Thanks a lot.

    Best regards,

    Joe

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Oh wow did not know that about Greg Gutfeld that’s so funny. Yea I always wondered about why “Unicorn” also and that explanation on the pronunciation makes perfect sense.

  10. Michel says:

    Funnily, I also wondered at one stage why a unicorn was not called a unihorn? I suppose unicorn sounds more romantic, and the way that these creatures are depicted, it is romantic and beautiful images that we see of them.

    I am glad we don’t see images of unicorns that Marco Polo described, as otherwise I don’t think that unicorns would be as loved as they are. It’s always good to keep the magic and fantasy alive in this world of ours that seems to be turning upside down at the moment.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      I had always wondered that as well, part of the reason for writing this article was to get an answer to that specific question. Yes if Marco Polos unicorn was what we saw today doubtful it would be all rainbows and glitter haha.

  11. mzakapon says:

    Hi This is a wonderful article about Unicorn. I really don’t know much about unicorn. I heard about it in some story and in games and thought it was some kind of powerful horse. But reading through your post about this, I could know more about it and I would not even think that it has a great history also if I did not read your article. Those creature are really looks beautiful. I want to know more about those creature which is also almost similar to it but has exceptional wings to fly in the sky. Thanks for sharing this information.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Glad you were able to learn something new and fun from our article that is our goal, to share all facts about unicorns. Thank you for stopping by.

  12. Curtis says:

    I now know more about unicorns than I did even when my kids were little. I realize now that I should have known more. Your article is really cool and fun. I have heard about the rhinoceros being called a unicorn, but in my mind real Unicorns are much prettier.

    Thank you for the history lesson, I enjoyed it a lot.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hey Curtis it makes us so happy to hear you were able to learn something from our article. Thank you so much spending some of your time with us.

  13. Nuttanee says:

    Marco Polo makes the unicorn sounds like a scary beast lol Now look at our version, some even have the rainbow hair lol not the buffalo. Can I come up with my answer? Uni = one . Corn = Corn. Maybe the ancient people think that the horn looks like corn lol I really don’t care as well All I know that I love this beautiful creature. Great fun facts.

    Happy Holidays

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Thank you for coming by and leaving a comment. I agree I am glad Marco Polo’s version of a unicorn isn’t what we know them as today haha.

  14. Susan Holmes says:

    Interesting. I never thought of how they got their name. I never questioned how they evolved either. I just took the for what they were. So how did they evolve from a beast looking animal to a beautiful Horse like creature? Could it be the loving bond we build with horses? and how Horses seem to be telepathic? Something to think about.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Don’t know how they evolved into the creatures they are but that might be something to think about in a future article, thank you so much

  15. Caterina says:

    That was a fascinating article. I actually had never thought about why we call them unicorns. They history in your blog post was pretty fascinating. I may have to call my nieces up and let them in on the secret behind their favorite mythical and mystical creature. We are Greek and they will get a kick out of finding out about the monokeros:)

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      That’s so cool Caterina. We are so happy to hear you enjoyed this article and learned a few things along the way also. Your nieces are welcome here anytime and can ask us what ever questions they may have.

  16. atwabi says:

    I have not hard this type of animal in my life and this is my first time. Many animals have 2 horns but this one has one horn and this is wonderful, but I wonder why it was not called unihorn is because they never wanted to use horns in their naming but you have explained it to us. I am wondering if these animals still exist and where? thanks

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      We believe that they still do exist but we cannot prove this as a fact, but hopefully someday we can catch one on tape or something haha. As far as where they exist its hard to say but our bests guess would be Scotland.

  17. Vanna Denham says:

    Hey Sondra,

    Thank you for the information on the real unicorn.  I always related the mythical unicorn with beauty and ancient cultures. I appreciate you giving us the truth but I choose to continue to hold them in a different place.  Just because. 🙂   Similarly, we had a family of peacocks that kept coming into ours and our neighbors yards for a few months.  We learned first hand that they are dirty and destructive and the beauty went right out.   They eventually disappeared and I still like them from afar and image them as just being beautiful birds.

    All the best. 

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hello Vanna, oh yes still believe unicorn to be mystical and beautiful creatures as well, we were just sharing some of the information and facts we found during our research. I have never had peacocks myself but agree they are very beautiful birds that is for sure.

  18. alexandra says:

    I had never really thought about it until you said it. Very interesting how it can be traced so far back in history  and it does makes me wonder what the heck Marco Polo did see. I wish there was a way for us to know. It is really interesting how scottish comes and blends in with all this. 

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hello Alexandra, its is a question that is getting  a lot of attention here about what Marco Polo actually saw. No way for us to ever find out for sure, but it is definitely not what we have pictured today as a unicorn.

  19. Jean says:

    It is crazy the way human beings take anything that is ugly or mundane; spin it and beautify it into something fabulous or fantastic. Personally, I do not think much about unicorns. However, you did a great article for your niche and people that are going to be attracted towards this topic. Anyway, keep on dropping that good content.

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Thank you Jean, appreciate you taking the time to stop by the site and leave us a comment.

  20. Jay says:

    I really wonder what Marco Polo saw that he decided that it was actually a unicorn because, with everything we have heard about unicorns, that is definitely not a unicorn. Maybe he saw a very rare creature and decided that was a unicorn. Anyway, this was a fine read and it is clear that you put a lot of research into this. I too have never wondered about how the name unicorn came about until I read this post.

     

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hello Jay, there has been a lot of discussion here as well about what exactly Marco Polo saw, like you said though definitely not the unicorns that we picture today. Thank you for the kind words, stopping by our site, and taking the time to leave us a comment.

    2. Cheyenne C. says:

      That seems to be the million dollar question as it relates to this topic. Everyone wants to know what exactly he saw that differs so much from what we picture unicorns as today. Sadly I guess we will never really know.

  21. Olatoye Dolapo says:

    I read your article on “can unicorn fly” first and the beautiful creature catch my fancy, now I have added to my knowledge on how they came to be spelt “unicorn” and not “unihorn”.

    you have given us a great article, I have all the details facts on this topic. Thank you

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Thank you so much, we are passionate about all things unicorns and we don’t want to just push products, we also want to educate and teach on things about unicorns that many probably do not know.

  22. Paul says:

    Dear Cheyenne,

    Wow, You gave us an encyclopedia of knowledge via your post and Every Single Time I read an article of yours I learn so much new stuff!

    Why its Unicorn instead of Unihorn is an eye-opener. The history and details you shared are informative. I thoroughly appreciate the research you must have done to gather and compile so much information.

    Now I am becoming a fan of Unicorn.

    Best wishes to you, your family and your success, 

    Warm Regards,Paul

    1. Cheyenne C. says:

      Hello Paula and welcome aboard the unicorn bandwagon, we always have room for more haha. Make us so happy to hear you learn new info about unicorns everytime you read one of our articles, Thank you and please visit again in the future.

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