There are a lot of different words that all refer to mermaids and their like. So trying to find the right word for a specific mermaid can be complicated at times.
In order to make some sense of all that mermaid lingo, I compiled a list of the ways to refer to mermaids and merpeople in general.
1. What do you call a mermaid?
An ocean-dwelling young woman with a fishtail is called a “mermaid”, which stems from the Old English words for sea (“mere”) and girl or young woman (“maid”). A synonym is sea-maid or sea-maiden, which is the same word except that it uses the Modern English word for “ocean”.
Another Old English word for mermaid was “merewif” which stems from the words mere (sea) and wif (wife, woman) and thus referred to older women than mermaid did. Sometimes it was also used to refer to sea witches. Mermaids were however unmarried young females as the meaning of the word “maiden” suggests.
When you want to refer to a mermaid it is generally important to keep in mind that strictly speaking mermaids only live in the ocean, not in rivers or lakes. Hence their name means “a young woman from the sea“. Here you can read more about what mermaids are called in different languages.
2. What’s another name for a mermaid?
Other names for mermaids are siren, sea nymph (Nereid, Oceanid), water nymph (Naiad), nixie, rusalka, undine and Melusine. Some people also use the expressions water spirit, water fairy or water elf to refer to mermaid-like creatures.
However, strictly speaking, the word “mermaid” does not necessarily include other beings that are similar to mermaids. It only refers to mermaids that live in the ocean.
Nowadays some of these words are used interchangeably though. So don’t be confused if you see that happen.
It does however not mean that they are exactly the same creatures. Here you can read more about the differences between mermaids, sirens, nymphs and nixies.
Most of them actually come from different myths and are only referred to as mermaids because they look similar and because people nowadays often use the word “mermaid” as a sort of umbrella term to refer to all female creatures that live in the water.
Most of the mentioned creatures are water spirits like the nymphs, rusalka, nixies, undine and Melusine. You can read more about which water spirits there are here.
Other than that, there are dangerous mermaid-like creatures like the sirens. See point 11 for more information on them.
3. What is a male mermaid called?
A male mermaid is called a merman. The word is derived from Old English “mere” (sea) and “mann” (man) meaning “a man from the sea”. In Greek and Roman mythology, mermen were also referred to as Tritons, which are male fish-tailed sea gods.
There are also some male water spirits, that are similar to merman, like the Nix or Neck from Germanic and Scandinavian mythology.
The expression “mermaid man” is used in the TV-show Spongebob Squarepants, but otherwise isn’t common.
4. What do you call a girl mermaid?
A girl mermaid is mostly just called a mermaid, like female mermaids in general. The word mermaid actually literally means “a young woman from the sea” and is derived from the Old English words mere (sea) and maid or maiden (girl or unmarried young woman). So it is already focused on girls.
The word mermaid likely even exclusively referred to girls and young women instead of women of all ages in Old English because there was a separate word for older mermaids: merewif, which was derived from mere (sea) and wif (wife, woman).
An alternative is the word “mergirl” which uses the Modern English word for girl instead of the Old English one and basically has the same meaning as “mermaid”. It is however not commonly used.
5. What do you call a boy mermaid?
A boy mermaid is mostly called a young merman. The word merman derives from the Old English words mere (sea) and man and thus means “man from the sea”. There is no separate word for a mermaid boy, but if there were, they would be called mercnapa using the Old English word cnapa (boy).
An alternative might be “merboy” which uses the Modern English word for boy instead of the Old English one.
6. What are mermaid babies called?
Mermaid babies are simply called baby mermaids or babies, because there is no separate word for the baby of a mermaid, like there is for dolphin babies (calve) or fish babies (fry, fingerling). Instead, it makes sense to use the human word for baby because mermaids are half human.
If there was a word for mermaid baby it would be derived from the Old English mer (sea) and cild (baby) resulting in mercild. The Modern English alternative would be merbaby.
7. What do you call a mermaid person?
A mermaid person is called a merperson, which is derived from Old English mere (sea) and Modern English person. This is a neutral term, meaning you can use it to refer to mermaids, mermen as well as gender-neutral merpeople. It works in the same way as the word “person” does.
8. What are mermaids and mermen called?
Several Mermaids and Mermen are called merpeople or merfolk. These are the plural forms of merperson and can be used to refer to more than one individual, no matter of which gender. Both the words merpeople and merfolk can be used interchangeably.
There might only be a slight difference in the nuance of the words. While the word “people” mostly refers to everyone in general, the word “folk” is often used to refer to people of a particular group or type.
Thus, the word folk is mostly used in a specific way, like when you say “old folk”, “ordinary folk” or something like that. It also has a stronger connection to local groups and their traditional and cultural practices like folk music, folk dance and folklore.
So if you keep that slight difference in mind, you could say that the word merpeople would be a more general term to refer to mermaids and mermen and the word merfolk would refer to more specific groups of merpeople, e.g. “the merfolk of Miami” or “the merfolk of Ireland”. But so far I have not seen anyone actually use the two terms in that way.
On the other hand, it might be more likely that the word merfolk is already a specific term for “folk from the sea”, just in the way that mermaid means “a young woman from the sea”. In that case, there would not really be a difference to the term merpeople, which in turn can be understood as “people from the sea“.
So, in my opinion, it doesn’t really make a big difference if you say merpeople or merfolk. Both can be used to refer to several mermaids and mermen.
9. What do you call a group of mermaids (or merpeople)?
A group of mermaids is called a pod of mermaids. At the moment, a “pod” is the most commonly used word, but there are also some people who do not agree with the use of the word pod because it originally refers to a group of dolphins.
The use of the word pod was made popular by the TV-show Mako Mermaids. Since it is already in use and there is no alternative word that refers to a group of mermaids, it will probably remain in use in the future.
The only alternatives would be to call a group of mermaids a tribe or a school because mermaids are half human and half fish and the word tribe means a group of humans while the word school means a group of fish. But this approach actually ignores one important fact: a mermaid is not a full human or a full fish.
If you think about it, the word pod actually does fit quite well if you compare mermaids and dolphins from a behavioral instead of a species-based view. After all, mermaids are not one species, but two: human and fish, which makes them part mammal and part fish at the same time.
They however look and behave much more like a human and thus a mammal, except for the fact that they live in the water, which is not human-like at all. Thus, you can easily compare them to highly intelligent ocean mammals like dolphins and use the same word to describe the groups they form.
10. What is a mermaid with wings called?
A mermaid with wings is called a Melusine. She is a woman from European mythology from the Middle Ages who supposedly had a serpent tail or a fishtail like a mermaid. In some stories, she would transform into a dragon when her husband saw her secret tail and the wings were part of this transformation.
The reason why she would leave her husband is because he swore never to look at her while she was bathing because that was when her true appearance showed. But in the stories he breaks his word, so she leaves him forever. On some depictions you can see Melusine flying away with her wings.
11. What is a mermaid with two tails called?
A mermaid with two tails is either called a siren or a Melusine. Both creatures were sometimes depicted with two tails in art and heraldry. In the original myths, they were however not described as having two tails. Thus, it seems the two-tailed mermaid was mostly used as a decorative motif.
I found an interesting website where you can see a map of places in Europe that feature depictions of two-tailed mermaids with lots of pictures. Have a look if you are interested.
A popular mermaid with two tails can also be found on the logo of the coffee shop chain Starbucks. According to Starbucks, she represents a siren.
12. What is an evil mermaid called?
An evil mermaid is called a siren. Although they are not the same creatures mythologically speaking, the siren is often seen and referred to as the evil and dangerous version of the otherwise friendly mermaid. Other often evil mermaid-like beings are Necks and Nixies.
The siren, who was initially a bird woman in ancient Greek mythology before she was depicted with a fish tail, is nowadays often used in horror movies and other scary tellings of mermaid stories. This is because the sirens were thought to be dangerous creatures who lured in sailors with their beautiful voices, only to drown them.
The neck and nixies are similar creatures from Germanic and Nordic mythology who also often were thought to be responsible for the drowning of children and young women.
13. What is the bottom half of a mermaid called?
This one is not exactly a question about how to refer to merpeople, but how to refer to one part of them.
The bottom half of a mermaid is called a mermaid tail. Parts of that tail are the scales, which are distributed all over the surface of the tail, and the fin at the end of the tail, which helps the mermaid move her body through the water. Another word for the fin is fluke.
The words fin and fluke are both used to describe the fin at the end of the mermaid tail but there is a slight difference between the two terms. The word fin actually refers to the fins of a fish and the word fluke refers to the fluke of a whale or dolphin.
Since Mermaids have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a fish, you could think that the terms used to refer to a mermaid tail should be the same as the ones used to refer to the lower half of a fish. That would mean that using the word fluke would technically not be correct.
But, it is not that easy, because the end part of the tails of mermaids actually has a lot more in common with the flukes of dolphins and whales than it does with the fin of fish. That is because mermaids move in the same way that dolphins do underwater — using the dolphin-kick.