How Did Moose Get Their Name?


The moose is one of the tallest mammals in North America and the largest of all deer species. Unlike other species of deer, moose do not live in herds. Male moose, also known as bulls, grow antlers, which shed off in winter and grow in spring.

Moose used to live in many parts of Europe and the United States, but now they cannot be found there. Today, they live in vast areas of North America, Europe, and Asia, but most moose are located in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Russia.  

In 1606, the word moose, which had originated from Algonquian languages, became used in English for the first time. According to some sources, the name is derived from “moosu,” which means “he strips off.” The scientific name is based on the geographical location that is Alces americanus.

It is also believed that the word moose is derived from the Eastern Abenaki “moos,” which means “strips bark from the trees.” Captain John Smith, in 1616 wrote in his Description of New England that he saw “Moos,” a beast that was bigger than Stagge. 

Moose

In Great Britain, moose are known as elk, however elk (Cervus canadensis) in North America is a different animal. The word “elk” is devised from Proto-Germanic, from which Old English grew and mixed into other Indo-European languages.

In the continental-European languages, the different forms of the word “elk,” i.e., elg in Danish/Norwegian, älg in Swedish, alnis in Latvian, Elch in German and łoś in Polish languages means Alces alces.

The dictionaries of the 18th century defined “elk” as a sizeable horse-like deer. However, in North America, Cervus canadensis (wapiti) is referred to as elk, a very different animal. In the American colonization period in the 17th century, the name of moose remained confusing because of its resemblance to wapiti.

Four subspecies are recognized in North America

  • Eastern Mosse, scientifically called Alces alces Americana lives in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States
  • Northwestern Moose, accurately called Alces alces andersoni lives in central Canada and North Dakota, Minnesota, and northern Michigan
  • Shiras Moose, scientifically called Alces alces shirasi, lives in rocky mountains of the United States and Canada, and
  • Alaskan Moose, carefully called Alces alces gigas lives in Alaska and northwestern Canada.

Some classifications also include Eurasian subspecies of moose

  • European moose is recognized as Alces alces alces,
  • Siberian or Yakut moose are recognized as Alces alces pfizenmayeri
  • West Siberian or Ussuri moose are recognized as Alces Alces cameloides
  • East Siberian or Kolyma moose are known as Alces alces buturlini

Want to know where flower names come from?  Find out here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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