Devil’s Horse

I wish internet research wasn’t so much fun. I have work to do.

Wait a minute: I AM working–on a piece for the Floyd Press column for July 5–about my favorite insects of summer. One happens to be the “dragonfly” and I’m surprised I hadn’t wondered about this before:

Where did the name ‘dragonfly’ originate?

Answer: We have not been able to find a definitive answer to this question. One interesting theory about its origin, however, can be found in a book written by Eden Emanuel Sarot in 1958 entitled Folklore of the Dragonfly: A Linguistic Approach.

He theorized that the name dragonfly actually came about because of an ancient Romanian Folktale. In the folktale, the Devil turned a beautiful horse ridden by St. George (of St. George and the dragon fame) into a giant, flying insect.

The Romanian names the people supposedly referred to this giant insect (when translated into English) mean ‘St. George’s Horse’ or, more commonly, ‘Devil’s Horse.’ According to Sarot, the peasantry of that time actually viewed the Devil’s Horse as a giant fly and that they may have started referring to it as the ‘Devil’s Fly’ (instead of Devil’s Horse).

He stated that the Romanian word for Devil was “drac,” but that drac was also the Romanian word for dragon. He thought that eventually the Romanian name for the Devil’s Fly was erroneously translated to the English Dragon Fly and this eventually evolved into the “dragonfly!” from

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. We were afraid of dragonflies when we were kids. I think we called them sewing needles and thought they would sew us up. I wonder if that was a regional or a family thing.

  2. No, apparently this folk lore goes way, way back. I never heard it. Some of the dragonflies are still called “darners” and if you watch them laying their eggs just before the surface of the water, they do put one to mind of a loom with the shuttle dipping down and up.

    I think it is because these insects seem somehow “wise” that so much folk story has become associated with them.


  3. We called them snake doctors when I was a kid in north Georgia. I don’t know where that came from, probably from my parents who got it from their parents and so on.

  4. I’ve noticed in these parts there are always at least a few about, even in winter. For us though, they were always dragonflies…