KANGAROOS ~ What kind of name is that?


The Word Kangaroo

When I was a child in England, we were taught that when the English men of Captain Cook's expedition saw kangaroos, Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist, asked the native people what the name of that animal was. The people of Australia did not understand English, so they said, in their own language, "I do not understand you". The English heard the word as "Kangaroo" and thought that this referred to the animal they were asking about. So the name Kangaroo stuck.

A Gentleman and a Scholar

However, Sir Joseph Banks was not only a botanist, but he was also an accomplished linguist. To suggest that he would make such an elementary mistake is an unhistorical libel of a gentleman and a scholar.

Another Marsupial

It is also not consistent with other things that happened. One of the first Marsupials that was seen by the people of this expedition was a small tree climbing animal. Marsupials are almost unknown outside Australia and New Guinea, but Captain Cook was widely travelled. He was familiar with the Opossum of America, and recognised the similarity of the two animals. The Australian animal they found is now called a Possum.

A Better Explanation

I prefer another explanation of the word kangaroo. Assuming that the type of Kangaroo the English saw was an Eastern Grey, the people speaking their Guugu Yiidhirr language would have called it a gungurru meaning Grey Kangaroo. Naturally, the people living in Australia had separate names for the different types of Kangaroo. The English heard the word as Kangaroo, but did not at first realise that there were many species of Kangaroo, and the word is now used for the whole group.

The Family

The Kangaroo group is known as the Macropods, meaning "Large Footed". Scientifically they are of the family Macropodidae. This family includes the Kangaroos, Wallaroos, Wallabies, Rock Wallabies, Tree Kangaroos, Pademelons, Nail Tail Kangaroos, Quokka, Hare-wallabies, Bettongs, Potoroos and Rat-kangaroos.

Steve Challis has several articles about Kangaroos at stevechallis.net. Some Kangaroos climb trees; see


lisa sp