How Did the Guinea Pig Get Its Name?
The guinea pig is not a pig, nor does it come from Guinea. This tiny rodent got its name because it was first imported by Portuguese merchants known as guineamen.
It also grunts and squeals just like a real pig. Guinea pigs have been kept as pets for hundreds of years. Centuries ago, the Inca Indians of Peru discovered these animals living in the Andes Mountains.
They tamed them and raised them for food. Years later, European traders took some of these rodents to Europe and North America, where they became common pets.
On the other hand The Oxford English Dictionary mentions three theories about the origin of this inappropriate name:
(1) The animal was perhaps “thought to resemble the young of the Guinea Hog (Potamochoerus),” which is a river pig found in Guinea.
(2) Back when the phrase “guinea pig” was first recorded, the word “Guinea” was often used to denote some unspecified or unknown faraway land.
(3) The “guinea” here may represent confusion with Guiana, a region of northeastern South America. This explanation “seems unlikely,” the OED says.