Turns Out the Word 'Bear' Isn't the Real One for Everyone's Favorite Picnic Basket Thief

It might not be advisable to say Voldemort's name, but long before J.K. Rowling birthed her Potterverse, there was another creature whose true name inspired equal terror. The animal we all know and love to be "bears" were actually the first creatures to be given a new name out of safety and superstition.

The English word "bear" is a nickname derived from the word "brown". That's because somewhere along the way, their real name was dropped and lost to modern-day civilization.

This history goes way back to the Middle Ages, when groups of global ancestors saw the bear as a gigantic threat. As the bear was one of the only wild aggressors living near Slavic, German and Baltic lands, it was a common enemy of the people.

Instead of calling bears by the original name given to them, everyone flocked to a list of nicknames for the animals due to the belief that stating the bear's formal name would summon one. Another popular belief was that saying the word "bear" would make one nearly impossible to capture one and cause a potential safety threat, according to the University of Pittsburgh Slovak Studies Program.

A brown bear rests on a rock at its enclosure at the Zoological Park in the eastern French city of Amneville on October 12, 2017. Getty/PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP via Getty Images

Pittsburgh's website quotes "artko" as the original translation of bear. Apparently, the word wasn't dropped by all languages. Celtic languages, like Welsh, use the word "arzh," an apparent translation of the bear's first given descriptor.

Germanic ancestors were the ones to call the bears "the brown one" or "the dark one," which was eventually translated to the English version of "bear."

Another common nickname for the animals was "Medú jed," or "honey eater," which was used by Slovaks.

There's another version of how "bear" came to be, though. Some retellings claim the word "bear" didn't come from "brown." Rather, it's possible it was a derivative of a Greek word that meant something like "wild beast," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The source cites both tellings as possible origins.

Whichever way it began, it may seem strange to disguise the name of such a common beast. The fear surrounding bears was just one of many animal-centric superstitions of the era. In fact, there's an entire book dedicated to all of the myths about animals in the Middle Ages.

The "Book of Beasts" was written in medieval times and features illustrations and superstitions about a list of creatures, some appearing to be fictionalized and others reminiscent of animals around the world. Some of the animals included are whales, snakes, lions and unicorns.