Naming hyenas is a much trickier task than you might think. This project has been running for 20 years, and we’ve named a LOT of hyenas (over 1,400). Since we never use the same name twice, we have to get pretty creative!
Every adult female we study has a “lineage.” That means that all her kids’ names fall into one category. Lineages range from the obvious (like authors, rivers, and colors) to the obscure (such as surf breaks, talk show hosts, and places in Tolkien books). We have hyenas named after liquors, Kenyan tribes, gangsters, mystical creatures, and even cuts of meat. Food-based lineages are always popular here too, mostly because we live in the bush and constantly crave various treats…we’ve got junk foods, healthy foods, Italian foods, cheeses, breads, and chocolate bars.
(The cubs in this photo are Papagano and Rigoletto, from our "opera characters" lineage.)
We even have a lineage of donors to the Hyena Project. Unfortunately, we’ve only had two donors - thank you Primeau and Hogan - so we’re in trouble as soon as this mama has another litter! This means if you’ve got a few bucks to give away, or a spare LandCruiser lying around, send it our way and we’ll name a hyena after you.If we don’t know who the hyena’s mom is (like many of the hyenas in our new study clans), the options are endless. Often, a name comes to mind after a single glance at their spots. Archer has a bow and arrow, Silkwood sports a radiation symbol, and Leprechaun’s got a rainbow…it’s kind of like seeing shapes in the clouds. Hyenas like Geezer and Pain in the Butt are named after something unmistakable about their demeanor. Sometimes, it’s more personal; there are hyenas named after our pets, our friends, and our inside jokes.
Moral of the story? To be a good hyena researcher, you have to be patient, dedicated, an excellent observer, etc…but more than anything, you need a good imagination.