Why Do We Call Them Tropical Fish Anyhow?

What Is In A Name?

Words are important because they convey ideas and feelings. Aquarium words bear a greater burden because science is involved and so is order. Yet the term Tropical Fish imparts an incorrect idea because many aquarium fish come from cold climates.

One source defines tropical as ” characteristic of a region or climate that is frost-free with temperatures high enough to support year-round plant growth given sufficient moisture.” However, White Clouds or Hill-Stream Loaches come from cold winter temperatures high in the mountains of China. Many of the aquarium fish that we call “Tropical” fish are actually cold water loving fish. Not only is the word “tropical” in regards to aquarium fish wrong, but it’s influence is counterproductive. How so? When one hears the word “tropical” they think warm, and buy heaters. Back to Hill-Stream Loaches, they need a winter cool down to bring them into spawning condition.

Not All Tropical Fish Are Tropical Like The Neon Tetra

One of the early phrases, that I found appealing, was penned by Walter Lannory Brind in 1914. He used the phrase “domesticated fish.” That seems very appropriate in that it sounds nice and is accurate. Ida Mellen would employ the term “Toy Fishes” and later that would become “Toy Tropical Fishes.” William Innes liked the expression “Exotic Fishes.” Again it seems lacking to me in that they are exotic to whom? Duckweed may seem exotic to someone in the desert , and it is a plague to me. So it’s all relative.

So who was it that called these things we keep in the aquarium, “Tropical Fish?” His name was Myron Gordon and he coined the phrase in a 1926 article. At the time he used the phrase Tropical Fish, over all the fishes did seem to come from tropical places. Remember it was not until the 1930’s that the White Cloud Mountain Minnow was discovered. But why did that name above all the other phrases stick? I think it was just that, it became a generic phrase that had been used so long that changing it was not even considered. At least we don’t call them “swimming thingies kept in glass boxes.” So for now “Tropical Fish” will have to do.

The Aquarium

Where Did The Term Aquarium Come From?

So where did we get the term Aquarium? The name actually came some time after the art of keeping ornamental fish began. For a time it was an on going discussion as to what these water boxes should be called.

The actual name came from the first public aquarium that began in 1853 by the curator Philip Henry Gosse, who’s first published manual “The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea, in 1854


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