The Marine Lexicon initiative aims to translate, across the many European languages, the words and terms that name marine mammals, their historical uses for the last 2000 years as well as human’s perceptions about them. Regional mythological sea beings, sea monsters and other curiosities from the oceans and shores will also be included.

The bilateral initiative Marine Lexicon is funded by the EEA Grants for 2020 and 2021 and based at CHAM (Centre for the Humanities of NOVA FCSH). We are a team of Portuguese and Norwegian researchers: biologists, archaeologists and historians, searching for, interpreting and presenting words and expressions that deal with marine mammals. For now, a thesaurus with words and expressions from 10 languages, including old versions of the respective languages, will be included in a database; five South European and five North European. All are languages from countries and regions with a coastal line. The thesaurus will be presented in an online open access database, allowing scholars and the public to search within the true ocean of possibilities that is the European vocabulary about marine mammals.

And what is there in a name? A symbolic and cultural meaning, a word that states and names something, someone, a feeling. A word understandable in a certain vernacular tongue, but whose significance might be lost for those who do not apprehend its meaning. Hence, the value and importance of communication. Hence, a binomial nomenclature to name living beings using Latin was constructed back in the late 18th century and is being used by international scientific communities.

However, what about those who don’t usually use scientific nomenclature, but read books, journals, maps, manuscripts, in other languages. Sometimes, for those curious, not even a dictionary will suffice, because people wish to gather more information, to search for old details and sources to get a glimpse of past history, reality and perception. For example: For the English whale, we will find the Portuguese baleia (balea, ballena, baleya), the Spanish ballena or balea (or even vallena), the Italian balena, the French balleine, but also the German wal, the Dutch walvis as well as the Danish and Norwegian hval/kval. And with all these names, we will find a large marine mammal that is known in all these countries and influences human actions and attitude. Furthermore, the whales and words associated with them are found in mythology, natural history, fisheries and whaling, visual arts, short stories and epic poems, local traditions, memories, tangible and intangible heritage. Moreover, there is a network, connected by similar or parallel stories of interactions between peoples and nations.