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What Is in a Name? Smithsonian's National Zoo Opens Octopus Naming to a Public Vote

It is a natural explorer in the wild and seems to have an impressive memory. It has eight arms, no spine and its very own Web cam. That is how the National Zoo describes its new giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), which has been making a name for itself over the past few weeks. The only problem? It still needs a name.

Starting today, the public can vote online for one of four names that the invertebrate keepers and volunteers have provided for the Zoo’s newest charismatic cephalopod. Polls will remain open until noon Wednesday, April 7. The winning name will be announced via the octopus cam at 2 p.m. and on Facebook and Twitter shortly thereafter.

“This particular octopus is very active and not at all camera-shy,” said Alan Peters, curator of invertebrates at the National Zoo. “Naming an octopus is always a tough decision, but each of these names is unique and has a specific meaning.”

Name choices:

  • Olympus: This octopus arrived at the National Zoo just before the 2010 Winter Olympics, and for many zoogoers the octopus gets a gold medal for being a compelling animal.
  • Ceph: Octopuses belong to the fascinating group of animals called cephalopods (class Cephalopoda), which means “head-foot.” The arms or feet (podos in Greek) of these animals are on the front of their head (“cephalo” comes from the Greek kephale, for head).
  • Octavius: “Octavius the Octopus” is more than just a pretty, alliterative name. The prefix “oct” means eight—that is how many arms an octopus has, and “Octavius” was the Latin name traditionally given to the eighth child in ancient Rome. 
  • Vancouver: Home may be where the heart is—three hearts in the case of the octopus—and this octopus came to the Zoo from an organization in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, at the end of January.

One difficulty in picking a name is the gender. Although most staff members believe the octopus is a male, it will take more time for the octopus to mature before the Zoo can confirm this. In the past, this has called for some flexibility—one time, a female “Sunny” became a male “Sonny.”

Individuals who retweet the National Zoo’s call for votes on Twitter will be entered in a drawing for a tour of the National Zoo’s Invertebrate Exhibit and a chance to help feed the octopus.