The word “mermaid” has equivalents in almost all languages on earth. But in some languages, the roots of that word are very different than in others. So I decided to dig a bit deeper to find out how to say mermaid in different languages and how these words came about.
Words for mermaid in different languages
Here is an alphabetical list with words from different languages that mean mermaid.
- Albanian: sirenë
- Arabic: حُورِيَّة الْبَحْر [ḥūriyyat al-baḥr]
- Armenian: ջրահարս [ǰrahars]
- Azerbaijani: su pərisi
- Belarusian: руса́лка [rusálka]
- Bengali: মৎস্যকন্যা [môtśjôkônja]
- Bulgarian: русалка [rusalka]
- Burmese: ရေသူမ [resuma.]
- Catalan: sirena
- Chinese – Cantonese: 人鱼 [jan4 jyu4], 美人鱼 [mei5 jan4 jyu4]
- Chinese – Mandarin: 人鱼 [rényú], 美人鱼 [měirényú]
- Cornish: morvoren
- Czech: mořská panna
- Danish: havfrue
- Dutch: zeemeermin
- Esperanto: marvirino
- Estonian: merineitsi
- Finnish: merenneito
- French: sirène
- Galician: serea
- Georgian: ქალთევზა [kaltevza]
- German: Meerjungfrau
- Greek: γοργόνα [gorgóna]
- Hawaiian: wahine hiʻu iʻa
- Hebrew: בַּת יָם [bat yam]
- Hindi: जलपरी [jalparī], मत्स्यांगना [matsyāṅgnā]
- Hungarian: sellő
- Icelandic: hafmey
- Irish: maighdean mhara
- Italian: sirena
- Japanese: 人魚 [ningyo]
- Kazakh: су перісі [sw perisi]
- Khmer: មច្ឆានុ [macchaanuʼ]
- Korean: 인어 [ineo]
- Kumyk: суванасы [suwanası]
- Kyrgyz: суу периси [suu perisi]
- Lao: ນາງເງືອກ [nāng ngư̄ak]
- Latin: siren, puella marina
- Latvian: nāra
- Lithuanian: undinė
- Macedonian: сире́на [siréna]
- Malay: ikan duyung
- Maltese: sirena
- Navajo: chʼikę́ę́h łóóʼ
- Norwegian: havfrue
- Persian: پری دریایی [pari-ye daryâyi]
- Polish: syrena
- Portuguese: sereia
- Romanian: sirenă
- Russian: руса́лка
- Scottish Gaelic: maighdeann-mhara
- Serbo-Croatian: сирена [sirena]
- Slovak: morská panna
- Slovene: morska deklica
- Spanish: sirena
- Swedish: sjöjungfru
- Tagalog: sirena
- Tajik: парии обӣ [pariyi obī]
- Tatar: су анасы [su anası]
- Telugu: మత్స్యకన్య [matsyakanya]
- Thai: นางเงือก [naang-ngʉ̂ʉak]
- Turkish: deniz kızı
- Turkmen: suw perisi
- Ukrainian: руса́лка [rusálka], морська́ па́нна [morsʹká pánna]
- Uzbek: suv parisi
- Vietnamese: người cá, mỹ nhân ngư (美人魚)
- Welsh: môr-forwyn
Some of these words I got from this list on Wiktionary (double-checked it) and some I added on top. If you notice any errors, feel free to let me know.
What the different words for “mermaid” mean
Many languages actually use similar ways of referring to the mythical creatures from the ocean. In many languages, the translation of the word for mermaid literally means something like “sea maid”, “human fish” or “water fairy”.
I sorted some of these words with interesting meanings like this into groups and will give some more detail about their meaning in the following.
The word mermaid in English comes from the old English mere (sea) and maid basically meaning “maid from the sea“. But this approach is only one of 5 which I found are the most common ways how people around the world refer to mermaids in their languages.
I put these 5 approaches into a table and added a few examples for each of them:
|Literal Meaning||“Mermaid” in different languages|
|Meaning “Sea” + “Maid”||Mermaid (English)|
|maighdeann-mhara (Scots Gaelic)|
|deniz kızı (Turkish)|
|Derived from Latin “Sīrēn”||sirène (French)|
|Derived from Russian “Rusalka”||русалка [rusalka] (Russian)|
|русалка [rusalka] (Ukrainian)|
|Meaning “Human” + “Fish” or “Fish” + “Girl”||người cá (Vietnamese)|
|मत्स्यकन्या [natsyakanya] (Nepali)|
|人魚 [ningyo] (Japanese)|
|인어 [in-eo] (Korean)|
|美人鱼 [Měirényú] (Chinese)|
|wahine hiʻu iʻa (Hawaiian)|
|Meaning “Water” + “Fairy”||حُورِيَّةُ الْـمَاءِ [hwriat albahr] (Arabic)|
|जलपरी [jalpari] (Hindi)|
|جل پری [jalpari] (Urdu)|
As you can see the languages that use the same approach of saying the word Memaid are mostly closely related.
- In most Germanic and Celtic languages including English the word mermaid is derived from the words “sea” and “maid”. E.g. in Danish it is “havfrue” and in German “Meerjungfrau”.
- In the Romanic languages the word mermaid is derived from the Greek word for Siren, the mermaid like creature from Greek mythology. E.g. mermaid in French is sirène and in Spanish sirena.
- In Russian the word mermaid is actually the word for the slavic water spirit Rusalka which is also used to refer to other kinds of mermaids nowadays.
- Most languages that use the literal translation of “human” and “fish” are East asian or from the close area.
- Languages that use the meaning “water” and “fairy” include Middle eastern and Indian languages.
In many languages there are however several words for mermaids or say different kinds of mermaids.
Like in English there is the word “mermaid” but also a separate word for similar mythological creatures like “siren”, “nymph”, “nixie” etc. Here I wrote an article about how they are different from each other.
In the Romanic languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian etc. they do however use the word “siren” to refer to the evil mythological creature from Greece that drowns sailors as well as to the friendly little Mermaid Ariel from Disney (e.g. “la petite sirène” in French).
This actually seems to be one of the reasons why “mermaids” and “sirens” are so often confused even in English-speaking countries.
In this article, I only looked at the words for “mermaid” (meaning a beautiful half woman, half-fish creature like Ariel).
In the following I will explain the meaning of the words a bit more in detail.
The word mermaid in European languages
As you can see in the table, in European languages there are 3 main groups of how the word mermaid is used: having the literal meaning of “sea maid“, being derived from the Greek word for the Siren and being of russian origin refering to the Rusalka.
Germanic and Celtic languages that use “sea” + “maid”
Mermaid in Cornish
Morvorenmor = sea; veren = girl or maiden
Mermaid in Dutch (and Afrikaans)
Meerminmeer = lake + min = female form
Mermaid in English
Mermaidmere = sea + maid = girl or young woman
This word coms from Middle English where “mere” was a common word to refer to the sea or a lake. This root is still prevalent in many other Germanic languages like in German where the sea is called “Meer”.
Old English words for mermaid were meremenn, meremennen and meremenin.
Mermaid in Scots Gaelic
Maighdeann-mharamaighdeann = maiden + mara = sea
Mermaid in German
MeerjungfrauMeer = sea + Jungfrau = maid, young woman
Another equivalent word is “Seejungfrau” with the word “See” instead of “Meer” also refering to “sea”.
Mermaid in Danish and Norwegian
Havfruehav = sea + frue = wife, lady
Mermaid in Icelandic
Hafmeyjanhaf = sea + meyjan = maid, young woman
Mermaid in Swedish
Sjöjungfrusjö = sea + jungfru = maid
Mermaid in Welsh
Môr-forwynmôr = sea + morwyn = maid, virgin
Mermaid in Turkish
deniz kızıdeniz = sea + kızı = girl, daughter
From Latin derived words for mermaid (siren)
The word for mermaid in Modern Greek is actually γοργόνα (gorgóna) but there is another ancient Greek word that came to describe certain kinds of mermaids over time: Σειρήν (Seirḗn). It refers to the sirens that are famous for luring sailors to their death with their beautiful voices.
[Related: 17 Reasons why sirens are not mermaids]
It is thought that this word might have been derived from Greek σειρά (seirá, “rope, cord”) meaning “entangler” or “binder”.
The Romans adopted many beliefs from ancient Greece and for that reason also derived their word for sirens from the Ancient Greek Σειρήν (Seirḗn). The Latin word for mermaid/siren is Sīrēn or Sīrēna.
Because the Romance languages all stem from Latin, they also use words that are derived from the Latin word for mermaid. Especially when the concepts of mermaids and sirens started to merge during the medieval era, the word siren came to mean both evil and friendly mermaids.
Mermaid in French
The French as well as the other following words for mermaid are borrowed from Latin which was in turn borrowed from Greek.
In Old French it was “sereine”.
Mermaid in Italian
Mermaid in Portuguese
Mermaid in Spanish
Mermaid in Polish
Although Polish is not a Romanic language I added it here because their word for mermaid is derived from French sirène which in turn was derived from Latin and Greek.
The diminutive form is syrenka.
Mermaid in Tagalog / Filipino
Because of the big influence of the Spanish language on Tagalog and Filipino, the word Siren is also used in the Fillipines to refer to mermaids.
Saying Mermaid in Russian and Ukrainian
This word refers to another mythological creature like the siren: the Slavic Rusalka. Rusalkas are female Slavic water spirits which are described are young women that drowned. They typically appear during the Green Week around the time of Pentecost.
The word stems from Old East Slavic русалиꙗ (rusalija) and Old Church Slavonic роусалиѩ (rusaliję) which in turn was derived from yzantine Greek ῥουσάλια (rhousália) and from Latin rōsālia (“festival of the roses”).
The meaning of the word Rusalka was extended to also refer to all other mermaids and thus today not only refers to the original Rusalkas anymore.
Mermaid in (East) Asian languages meaning “human fish” or “fish girl”
Mermaid in Thai
Mermaid in Vietnamese
người cángười = person + cá = fish
Mermaid in Nepali
मत्स्या (matsya) = fish + कन्या (kanya) = girl
Mermaid in Japanese
人 (nin) = person, human + 魚 (gyo) = fish
The Ningyo is a separate mythological creature wich comes from Japan. It has the body of a fish and only the head is human. They are said to be rather ugly and mostly represent bad omens.
Nowadays the word is also used to refer to other kinds of mermaids.
Another way of saying Mermaid in Japanese is by using the English word which is written in Katakana, the writing system for foreign words: マーメイド (Māmeido).
Mermaid in Korean
인 (in) = person + 어 (eo) = fish
In the Korean writing system Hangul the word looks like this: 인어. However it is also possible to write it using Chinese Characters: 人魚. As you can see the characters are the same as in Japanese and Chinese showing the connecting between these languages.
Mermaid in Malay
ikan duyungikan = fish + duyung = mermaid, dugong
Mermaid in Chinese
美 (měi) = beauty + 人 (rén) = person + 鱼 (yú) = fish
Mermaid in Hawaiian
wahine hiʻu iʻawahine = Woman, lady, wife + hiʻu iʻa = with a fish tail
Words that mean “water fairy”
Mermaid in Arabic
حُورِيَّةُ الْـمَاءِhwriat albahr
حُورِيَّةُ (hwriat) fairy, nymph + الْـمَاءِ (albahr) = water, the sea
Mermaid in Urdu
jal = water + pari = fairy
Mermaid in the languages of India
Mermaid in Hindi and Marathi
जल (jal) = water + परी (pari) = fairy
There is also another word for mermaid which is derived from Sanskrit: मत्स्याङ्गना and literally means fish woman similarly to the Nepali word.
मत्स्या (matsya) = fish; ङ्गना (ngana) = woman
Mermaid in Kannada
Mermaid in Telugu
Mermaid in Tamil
Mermaid in Gujarati
Mermaid in Malaylam
Mermaid in african languages
Mermaid in Swahili
This also means dugong or manatee.
Mermaid in Yoruba