I am compiling a database of deities, mythological creatures, fairy tale or folkloric beings, and other similar entities, complete with categorisation based on various factors. In doing so, I have identified a (surprisingly large) category for which I cannot find an appropriate term, that being the class of animals who were once people. Despite this occurring in countless myths, legends, and folktales over several millennia (everything from the ancient Greek stories of the Pieredes and the encounter with Circe as described in the Odyssey, through to medieval and later tales such as The Children of Lir or The Frog Prince, and the innumerable further examples in modern works of fiction), I can find no general term to describe or refer to the subject or subjects of such a transformation.

The following terms I have already considered:

  • These characters are not Shapeshifters, at the very least these characters are distinct from the common definition in that they do not possess the power to transform themselves. Further, Shapeshifter is already both an entry and classification in the aforementioned database.
  • The terms Zoomorph and especially Zoomorphic have unfortunate connotations to deities with animalistic attributes, again with potential for confusion given the context.
  • Therianthrope is tangentially related but definitely not the correct word here.
  • The website TV Tropes refers to this phenomenon as Baleful Polymorph, and the more general concept of humans turning into animals as Animorphism. The latter of these terms is certainly too broad, while the former comes across as a bit of a misnomer both because the transformation may not always be what one would consider baleful, and in the sense that polymorph implies the ability to transform is inherent to the subject.

Does a concise term or (preferably) single word exist to describe this already? If not, could one perhaps be created or co-opted from Greek or Latin roots that would be fairly unambiguous in the given context and has no previous connotations in the realms of myth, religion, or folklore? And, failing that, what might you suggest as a new term to describe this (preferably in no more than two words)?

Note: This term will be used much like tags are used on this site, rather than in a sentence and as such no sample sentence is provided. Additionally, the grammatical form of this word or phrase (i.e., noun vs adjective) is not particularly important as long as the meaning is clear.

  • I think there are several terms (like Eos turns Tithonus into a cricket or Io was transformed into a heifer) but I can't think of a phrase for X being transformed into an animal. Boanthropy is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes he or she is a cow or ox. (pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/blogs/…). But the person just thinks he or she is a cow, avoiding udder catastrophe.
    – rajah9
    Feb 3, 2021 at 21:39
  • It seems you are not looking for a word for "the class of animals who were once people" — that's a pretty big umbrella — but rather those in that class who were transformed ... involuntarily? without consent? with help? Feb 3, 2021 at 23:11
  • Isn’t there something in the JK Rowling canon about this?
    – user205876
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:56
  • @TinfoilHat as in the title I am mainly interested in finding a term which indicates the transformation was triggered by an outside source, so with help, as you put it. Whether the subject of the transformation gives consent or volunteers does not come into play, as there are several stories in which some relation of an individual who has already been transformed petitions the gods (for instance) to transform them in turn, and to categorise these two individuals differently based on the consent of the latter seems incorrect.
    – Pikanchion
    Feb 4, 2021 at 1:36
  • @GlobalCharm If so I would be curious to hear it.
    – Pikanchion
    Feb 4, 2021 at 1:37

2 Answers 2


I think the problem you ha e here is expecting that everything is already categorized. However, not everything is. Many things have been categorized by many different people that haven't lasted the test of time because no-one thought the categorization worth their trouble. For example, Foucault in his book on The Order of Things, said once he was looking over an ancient Chinese encyclopedia and marveling how differently they had categorized phenomena from Europeans.

Shapeshifter doesn't work since it's basically a term from fantasy literature and not part of any officially recognized lexicon. Ovid once wrote a book of poems on shape changes in mythology. He called it Metamorphoses. You might want to try that - but I don't think that's a great fot either being a wide term. I suspect that you would be best describing the transformations that you're interested in full sentences rather than cryptic one or two-worders.


If it is specifically human to animals, you can use the word "bestialize" which means to turn into a beast.

There is also "transmogrify". I believe it means to turn something into an animal.

Searching around, the definitions seem to be a bit more general, but not by much. The more general definitions mainly just encompass turning something into something else. Animal to human, human to rock, for example.

It also room for creatures that have been turned into humans, like Amalthea from The Last Unicorn, and creatures that have been turned into other creatures though I can't think of any off the top of my head.

  • Transmogrify is a general term that isn't even restricted to living things, let alone specific to humans.
    – nnnnnn
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:27
  • @nnnnnn I think it would suit the OP's purposes well though due to context. It's pretty clear what it means when you open up a book about creatures and there's a "transmorgified" classification. Also makes room for creatures that have been turned into humans, like Amalthea from The Last Unicorn, and creatures that have been turned into other creatures though I can't think of any off the top of my head.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:29
  • Well in the OP's context they can provide a definition of terms so it could be made to work but would still be kind of a non-standard usage. Incidentally, you've spelt transmogrify incorrectly.
    – nnnnnn
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:42
  • @nnnnnn Oh is it? Then I've been saying it incorrectly too. Not that I've ever needed to actually say it. Corrected. Of course you can also make up words. I'm pretty sure some author at some point made up the word "roboticize". "Bestialize" is also a word.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:42
  • Maybe "non-standard" was the wrong way for me to put it. Certainly transmogrified can be applied to humans turned into animals, I'm not arguing that, but to use it as the actual classification for those beings is a bit confusing when its standard meaning is much more broad, and in the context of myths and fairytales there are other things (both living and nonliving) that also meet the general meaning.
    – nnnnnn
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:54

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