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11 Animal Names You Can Use to Describe People

11 Animal Names You Can Use to Describe People

Just like English speakers often use words for taste to describe people, they do the same with animal names. If you hear someone being called a "rat," you may have an idea that it's not very good, but what exactly does it mean?

We're here to help! This article will introduce 10 animal names and explain the kinds of people those names can describe. Sometimes the meanings are good and sometimes they are bad, but they are all expressive and creative ways that communicate ideas quickly.

Before you read the explanations, look at each name on the list and try to guess what kind of person they may describe. Are there any animal names used the same way in your native language?

Guinea pig

Guinea pigs are small animals that look similar to hamsters. For many years, they were very popular as animals used for laboratory experiments. Because of this, people refer to themselves or others as guinea pigs if they are the first to try something risky or if they feel like they are somehow being experimented on.

I signed up to be a guinea pig for the medical trial.
No one's done this before? That means they're using us as their guinea pigs.


A grasshopper resting on a leaf

Aside from the green insect with long legs, a "grasshopper" is also a slang term for a student or someone who is inexperienced.

This usage became popular due to the American martial arts TV series Kung Fu, which debuted in 1972. In the show, the wise master uses it to refer to his young trainee. Even though many people aren't aware of this origin, it is still commonly used today and always in a joking way.

Patience, young grasshopper. You will learn everything at the proper time.

Teddy bear

Bears are usually thought of as big, scary animals. On the other hand, teddy bears are soft, cute toys for children. Calling a person a "teddy bear" is actually a combination of these two ideas. 

Usually, the person being talked about may seem scary or mean to people who don't know them, either because of their size or their manner. However, in reality they are very kind.

Mitch might seem unfriendly at first, but when you get to know him, you'll see he's a teddy bear.


Cougars, also called mountain lions or pumas, are large cats that live throughout North and South America. They hunt for animals like deer, goats and sheep in addition to smaller animals like rodents.

However, human "cougars" hunt for something completely different! Since the early 2000s, it has become a slang term for women who like to date much younger men. 

Monica is a cougar. Her past boyfriends have all been at least 10 years younger than she is.


A small weasel looking into the camera

Weasels are small mammals with long bodies and short legs that can be found in countries all around the world. However, when referring to people, a "weasel" is a person who is sneaky or who cannot be trusted. 

I'd be careful around him if I were you. He's got a reputation for being a weasel.

Additionally, there's the expression "weasel one's way out of something," which means to escape responsibility or a difficult situation.

Tim weaseled his way out joining the meeting. So the boss gave his assignment to me instead!


Moles are small animals that are well known for digging holes and traveling underground. There's a popular arcade game based on them, and they have even inspired a character in the Super Mario games.

Because they are known for moving in places that are difficult to see, we use the term "mole" to refer to a kind of spy. In particular, moles are people who enter a country, organization, etc. but are secretly sharing information they gather with a rival.

The president is being extra careful because he believes there is a mole hiding in his organization.

Lone wolf

Wolves are known for living and traveling in packs. So calling a person a "lone wolf" is another way of saying that they are often by themselves.

However, the nuance is less about loneliness and more about independence; perhaps the person is just more comfortable alone or does not need or want assistance from others.

Terry is a bit of a lone wolf. He's friendly, but he doesn't have many close friends.


Unicorns are legendary creatures that look like horses but with a single horn sticking out of their foreheads.

Because they are from fantasy and don't exist in real life, this term is often used informally to refer to someone or something that is very rare and almost impossible to find.

We were incredibly lucky to find Susan. She has all of the skills needed for the job. She's a unicorn.


Unlike mice, which some people think are cute, rats are usually disliked and thought to be dirty or scary animals. So when referring to people, it's also negative; a "rat" is a person who cannot be trusted or is generally a bad person.

I can't believe he just left you alone in a strange place with no money or help. What a rat!

To "rat on" someone (or to "rat them out") means to betray them by sharing sensitive information that was supposed to be kept secret.

I never should have trusted you — I knew you would rat me out someday.

Additionally, it can be used to refer to a person who spends a lot of time in a particular place. This usage is not as negative as the ones above.

He and his friends are a bunch of mall rats; they go there every day after school.


A dangerous shark swimming in the sea

Sharks, of course, are large and very dangerous fish who are known to attack humans. Jaws, a film about a killer shark and one of the first “summer blockbuster” movies, made a huge impact when it was released in 1975.

Human “sharks” are business people who will do anything to achieve success, even lie, steal and cheat.

That company is very successful, but everyone knows it’s run by a bunch of sharks.


Workhorses are horses used for work instead of racing or riding. They are known for being strong and dependable.

When talking about people, it refers to a person who can do good work even in difficult conditions or for long periods of time. 

My team is full of workhorses. We were all at the office until late into the night and nobody complained.

This term can also be used for machines.

This fax machine is a real workhorse. I bought it 30 years ago and it still works perfectly!


It's completely fine to say something like, "I don't like that guy. I think he's dirty." But it's much quicker and more expressive to simply say, "He's a weasel!"

There are actually many more animal names that can be used for people, but start with these first and look for more in a future article. Using them naturally will definitely bring you closer to English fluency!