The land of rabbits
When adding more animals to the Celtic Connections section on Omniglot the other day, I started wondering about the origins of the Celtic words for rabbit – connín (Irish), coinean (Scottish Gaelic), conning (Manx), cwningen (Welsh), conyn (Cornwell), c’honikl (Breton). They appear to be related to each other, and also to the English word coney, which was used for rabbit until the 18th century, while rabbit was used for the young of the coney from about the 14th century.
Rabbit apparently comes from the Walloon robète, which is a diminutive of the Flemish or Middle Dutch robbe.
Coney comes from the Anglo-Norman conis, the plural of conil “long-eared rabbit” (Lepus cunicula) from the Latin cuniculus, which means burrow and comes from the Greek κύνικλος (kýniklos), which is thought to come from an Iberian word for burrow. Related words in other languages include kanin (Danish), konijn (Dutch), bunny (English), Kaninchen (German), coniglio (Italian).
There’s a popular theory that the Roman name for Spain, Hispania, which became España and Spain, comes from the Phoenician name for Iberia i-shepan-im, the land or coast of rabbits. When the Phoenicians first visited Iberia in around 500 BC they saw lots of rabbits there which they named after a similar animal, the hyrax of North Africa.