Where Does The Fish Name ‘Carp’ Come From?

Above: common carp (Cyprinus carpio)

The original common carp was found in the inland delta of the Danube River about 2000 years ago, and was torpedo-shaped and golden-yellow in colour. It had two pairs of barbels and a mesh-like scale pattern. Although this fish was initially kept as an exploited captive, it was later maintained in large, specially built ponds by the Romans in south-central Europe (verified by the discovery of common carp remains in excavated settlements in the Danube delta area). As aquaculture became a profitable branch of agriculture, efforts were made to farm the animals, and the culture systems soon included spawning and growing ponds.

[Source: Wikipedia]

It is highly likely that these distinctive freshwater fish were already being referred to by a similar-sounding name to ‘carp’ in the region of the Danube River’s inland delta back in ancient times.

Wiktionary states that the English word ‘carp’ originated from Old French ‘carpe’, which in turn is from Late Latin/Vulgar Latin ‘carpa’, which itself probably ultimately derives from Gothic ‘*karpa’.  Gothic is an extinct East Germanic language spoken by the Goths.  Other attested forms include Middle Dutch ‘carpe’ and Old High German ‘karpfo’ or ‘karpho’.

But the ultimate origin is “unknown” or “unsettled”.

Recently I have been observing what I consider to be a considerable number of Chadic cognates within Indoeuropean languages (especially Italo-Celtic and Germanic, but others also, and non-Indoeuropean languages such as Basque).

A number of scholars have posited an Afroasiatic substrate within these languages; however previous research has focused more on Semitic or to a lesser degree Berber as possible sources for this, and Chadic has been generally overlooked.

Whether there is a Chadic substrate in western Indoeuropean languages [Italo-Celtic &/or Germanic &/or Slavic] remains to be seen [see also my earlier post: Where did the word ‘hand’ originate from?]

However something which really caught my attention recently is a common generic word for “fish” in West- and Central-Chadic languages (or Proto-Central Chadic):-

  • “*Kirop-”


  • “Kɨrɨp”

[Source:- “Central Chadic Reconstructions” – Richard Gravina (2014);  “Vocabulary of Water in Chadic” – Olga Stolbova (1997)]

In my opinion there is a strong resemblance between the Proto-Central Chadic word for fish and Gothic *karpa, but the likelihood is that nobody will investigate further or take the possibility even remotely seriously.

Above: Fishing in Lake Chad