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Why are parrots stereotypically named Polly?
Parrots probably get pretty tired of humans walking up to them and trying to get them to talk by asking, “Polly want a cracker?” Not only does it get their hopes up if you don’t have the cracker that was being offered, but it’s kind of silly to assume that the parrot is going to be named Polly. It’s just one of those things that’s in the collective mindset—Polly is a generic, go-to parrot name, the way Fido or Spot is for a dog.
Like many phrases and sayings, the notion of parrots named Polly comes from popular culture—albeit that of 17th century England. Ben Johnson was one of the most popular playwrights of his day, right up there with Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. One of his most famous plays was a hit comedy first produced in 1606 called Volpone. Two of the play’s sillier characters are Sir Politic Would-Be, and his wife, Lady Politic Would-Be. They shamelessly try to make their way into the social scene of Venice…despite being not very smart. Mr. and Mrs. Politic Would-Be tend to repeat back smart-sounding phrases they hear, despite having no idea that they mean. That earns Sir and Lady Pol, for short, a comparison to parrots.
Within ten years, print references to actual parrots named Pol were popping up in books and magazines. But since this is pets we’re talking about, people were more inclined to use the more affectionate, diminutive form of Pol—which is Polly.