Ever since I learnt that the Japanese word for “salamander” is “火蜥蜴” (hitokage, fire ‘lizard’), I’ve wondered why. After all, salamanders are amphibians, and I always associated those with water.
I found out this particular word because Japanese name for the Pokémon we know in English as Charmander is Hitokage (written in katakana, ヒトカゲ), and I went and looked up what it means.
For years, thought this fire connection was something unique to Japan. And then, I found this quote from an ancient Egyptian (well, technically a Greek) text in which the goddess Isis is speaking to her son:
Not that some of the animals as well do not love fire; for instance salamanders, for they even have their homes in it. It is because one or another of the elements doth form their bodies’ outer envelope.
Whoa. So… not just Japan, then.
A friend of mine suggested that it’s the salamander’s fiery colour, perhaps? Where she’s from, they tend to be brightly coloured, a common signal of an animal being poisonous:
Naturally, I googled, and found another possible answer on Wikipedia:
Legends have developed around the salamander over the centuries, many related to fire. This connection likely originates from the tendency of many salamanders to dwell inside rotting logs. When placed into a fire, the salamander would attempt to escape from the log, lending to the belief that salamanders were created from flames.
So, these legends are fossilised in the Japanese word for salamander, and, I guess, even in English, through the name of this little critter: