How did cockroaches get their name?

cartoon image showing the evolution of the word 'cockroach' from 'cucaracha.'Cockroaches are some of the most notorious pests in the world, known for their resilience and ability to thrive in various environments. But have you ever wondered how these insects got their name? The etymology of the word “cockroach” is as fascinating as the creatures themselves. In this article, we’ll delve into the history and origins of the name “cockroach,” tracing it back through different languages and cultures.

The Etymology of “Cockroach”

Spanish Roots

The name “cockroach” is derived from the Spanish word “cucaracha.” The term “cucaracha” has been used in Spanish-speaking countries for centuries to describe these insects.

  • Cucaracha: In Spanish, “cucaracha” is a general term for cockroach. The word itself likely comes from a combination of “cuca” (a term for a type of beetle) and the suffix “-racho” or “-racha,” which could be a diminutive form.

Transition to English

When English-speaking settlers encountered cockroaches in the Americas, they adopted the Spanish term but modified it to fit English phonetics and spelling.

  • Cockroach: The English adaptation “cockroach” first appeared in the early 17th century. The transformation from “cucaracha” to “cockroach” likely involved a process known as folk etymology, where unfamiliar foreign words are changed to resemble more familiar English words. In this case, “cock” (a familiar word) and “roach” (a type of fish) were combined to form “cockroach.”

Historical References

Early Descriptions

Cockroaches have been known to humans for thousands of years, and references to them appear in many ancient texts.

  • Classical References: Ancient Greeks and Romans described insects that are believed to be cockroaches. Aristotle mentioned them in his writings, referring to them as “blatta,” which is still used as a scientific term for the cockroach family.
  • Medieval Texts: During the Middle Ages, cockroaches were often referred to using Latin terms derived from “blatta,” and they were commonly mentioned in discussions about pests and household insects.

Cultural Impact

Songs and Folklore

The word “cucaracha” is famously associated with the traditional Mexican folk song “La Cucaracha.” The song tells the story of a cockroach that cannot walk, and over the years, it has been adapted to include various humorous and political verses.

  • La Cucaracha: The song “La Cucaracha” became popular during the Mexican Revolution, with soldiers creating new verses to reflect current events and political satire. The enduring popularity of the song has helped cement the word “cucaracha” in popular culture.

Scientific Classification


In scientific contexts, cockroaches are classified under the order Blattodea. This order includes both cockroaches and termites, highlighting the close evolutionary relationship between these insects.

  • Blattodea: The name “Blattodea” comes from the Latin word “blatta,” used by Aristotle and other ancient scholars. Within this order, there are several families, including Blattidae and Blattellidae, which encompass the various species of cockroaches.

The name “cockroach” has a rich history that spans multiple languages and cultures. From the Spanish “cucaracha” to the English “cockroach,” the term has evolved over centuries, reflecting both linguistic changes and the enduring presence of these resilient insects in human society. Understanding the etymology and historical context of the name adds another layer of fascination to these common yet remarkable creatures.

Stay curious and keep exploring the fascinating world of insects. If you encounter cockroaches in your home, remember their storied history and take steps to manage and control their presence effectively. For more interesting facts and practical advice on dealing with cockroaches, explore our other articles and resources.

Free Reports
Free Cockroach Inspection and Prevention Checklist