Why Are Betta Fish Called Betta Fish?

3 min read

Betta fish are one of if not the most popular aquarium fishes in the U.S.A.. Aquarium fish are mainly kept for people to watch or observe as a way to relax or unwind so bettas would naturally be a favorite because of their bright and alluring colors.

Betta Fish

Since they are so popular, there are many questions people have about bettas including one of the most often asked, why are betta fish called betta fish?

Betta fish are called betta fish because their scientific name is Betta Splendens, given to them by C. Regan when they first arrived in the United States in 1909. Betta means ‘tearing or biting fish” while Splendens means “splendid”.

The definitions make sense since they are known as fighting fish when they fight and tear at each other yet are also known for their splendid colors.

Sound interesting? It was to me, and I decided to dig further so let me share the unique history of how bettas got their name.

How Bettas Got Their Name

Also known as the Siamese fighting fish, betta fish are from the freshwaters of Southeast Asia. Although there are over 73 scientifically named species of betta fish, betta splendens are the popular aquarium species that have become known as Bettas.

Because of their wide array of colors and beautiful appearance, bettas have become one of the most popular aquarium fish worldwide, much less here in the United States.

Betta splendens are the only scientific class of betta fish that are known as ‘bettas’.

When Bettas Became Pets

Bettas started out as pets in Thailand and have been pets for at least 1000 years. They may have been abused as an investment first then later became pets.

When they first began breeding betta fish in Thailand, it wasn’t as pets, but rather for aggression to be used in fighting matches!


I know that’s what I thought when I first discovered this but the first betta fish that were captured in Thailand were actually used for gambling, kind of like fighting roosters.

Even though they are called bettas, they are also known as Siamese fighting fish. Since they were originally bred for aggression to suit this purpose you can only imagine that they became even more aggressive over time.

That is why they still fight today and are known as fighting fish even though they are no longer used for this, well not that I know of.

The king of Siam saw this and actually began to place rules and regulations and even began to collect taxes from betta fish.

He was called the king of Siam because Thailand used to be called Siam. Hence the name – Siamese Fighting Fish!

How Bettas Became Pets Outside Thailand

Around 1840 King Rama gave some betta fish to Dr. Theodore Canter, a physician from Denmark.

Canter actually wrote a scientific paper about the fish and named them Macropodus Pugnax, not knowing that there was already a fish by that name.

It was the U.S. scientist Charles Tate Regan that renamed them Betta Splendens which he defined as ‘beautiful warrior’.

Bettas were shipped to France and Germany around 1890 and reached the U.S. in 1910.

Betta Pronunciation

In Thailand, bettas are actually called “Plakat” meaning biting fish.

In the U.S. their name is usually mispronounced as “bay-tuh” but it is supposed to be “bet-tah”. Just imagine someone from Boston saying they are better than you, they would say, I’m bettah than you haha.

Siamese Fighting Fish

Bettas were actually first scientifically named Macropodus Pugnax in 1849 which means an aggressive fish with big feet. The big feet part of the name was probably referring to their rather large fins for their body size.

They were renamed Betta Splendens when they reached the U.S. They have been bred so much that they are now available in a wide variety of colors.

The Tail End

Now that you know why betta fish are called betta fish you should go get some. They are one of the most popular fish to have in an aquarium because they are so beautiful to look at and come in such a wide array of colors.

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Pet Aquariums

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