ladybird on strawberry leaf – photograph: nutmeg66
A coccinellid is a beetle of the family Coccinellidae. The genus name Coccinella is from Latin coccineus, scarlet (cochineal, a scarlet dye, has the same origin). This family includes the ladybirds (ladybugs in American English).The scientific name of the common European seven-spot ladybird is Coccinella septempunctata (septempunctata = seven-spotted).
The original Old English form and meaning of lady were hlǣfdige and kneader of bread. The word was a compound of hlǣf, loaf, and -dige, kneader, related to dough.
The weak genitive singular hlǣfdīgan (lady’s) became by regular phonetic change coincident in form with the nominative (lady). This is the origin of compounds that appear to be attributive but are in fact genitive (that is to say where lady signifies possession), such as Lady chapel, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation on 25th March, and ladybird in the sense of the small beetle. (The Virgin Mary was usually named Our Lady, which translates Latin Domina Nostra – cf. Notre Dame in French.)
(The obsolete compound ladybird used as a term of endearment is not genitive but attributive. In The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (around 1594), Shakespeare makes the nurse to Juliet exclaim “What, lamb! what, ladybird!”.)
The name ladybird applied to the beetle is first recorded in 1674. It was so named on account of its seven spots, which were popularly supposed to symbolise the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. These seven sorrows are Simeon’s prophecy*, the flight into Egypt, the three days’ loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way to the Cross, the Crucifixion, the taking down of the body of Jesus from the Cross, the burial of Jesus.
(* gospel of Luke, 2:34-35 – King James Version:
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.)
Earlier English names were ladycow and its transposition cow-lady. The terms bishop and golden knop were also used.
Similar names of the beetle are widespread in other European languages. For example, French had bête de la Vierge (bête = animal, insect), vache à Dieu (vache = cow) and still uses bête à bon Dieu (bon Dieu = good Lord). However, ladybird translates as coccinelle in standard French.
Similarly, German has Marienkäfer, Mary’s beetle, and Herrgottskäfer, the Lord God’s beetle.
Catalan uses marieta and Spanish mariquita, diminutive of marica, itself a diminutive of María. Portuguese has joaninha, a diminutive of the proper name Joana, and vaquinha, a diminutive of vaca, cow. (Similarly, Spanish mariposa means butterfly.)
Among other names, Romanian uses boul-lui-Dumnezeu and boul-Domnului, literally the Lord’s ox, vaca-Domnului, the Lord’s cow, găina-lui-Dumnezeu, the Lord’s hen.
The Volkswagen beetle (bug in American English) is coccinelle in French, Käfer in German, escarabajo (beetle) in Spanish, maggiolino (cockchafer) in Italian, carocha (beetle) in Portuguese.
The Beatles walking across Abbey Road the ‘wrong way’. The photograph was taken by Iain Macmillan during the same shoot that resulted in the famous album cover.
(photograph: Bloomsbury Auctions)