What Is The Original Name For The Butterfly

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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While you might know the names of the four main swimming strokes swum at competitive swimming events, you might not know the history of the strokes or how they came about.

The butterfly stroke that we know today has always gone by the same name but started as a variation of the breaststroke until developments in technique and modifications to competitive swimming rules separated the two strokes in the 1900s.

Keep reading to learn more about the butterfly stroke’s place in swimming and competitive sports history.


What is the Original Name of the Butterfly?

It might seem like the butterfly might have had another name and only recently been called the butterfly, but that isn’t the case. The original name for the butterfly stroke has always been the butterfly.

Unlike the name, what “butterfly” refers to has changed slightly as the technique developed and gave way to an entire swimming discipline.

At the beginning of the butterfly’s history, the name referred to the motion of the arms coming up and out of the water during the breaststroke. This is in contrast to the traditional movement of recovering the arms forward while underwater. 

Nowadays, it refers to the combination of arm movement and the dolphin kick coming together as a cohesive swimming stroke.


How Did Butterfly Get its Name?

The butterfly derives its name from when David Armbruster started to bring his arms up and out of the water in an effort to swim a faster breaststroke during the 1930s.

He called it “butterfly” style because the arms’ semi-circles during the motion vaguely resemble the shape of a butterfly’s wings. The term “butterfly” stuck with the variation of the breaststroke when the dolphin kick was added to go even faster.

Interestingly, if you watch modern swimmers doing the butterfly, you might not think that the arms look like a pair of butterfly wings, and you’d be right. This is because the technique for stroke has developed beyond how it originally swam over 80 years ago.


Where Did Butterfly Originate From?

Historians and swimming athletes generally agree that no single person invented the butterfly stroke. Instead built up through the contributions of multiple people.

That being said, American swim coach David Armbruster and one of his students, Jack Sieg, are generally recognized as the pair that first swam the butterfly. After much research and practice, the duo brought swimming recognition to the University of Iowa.

Because of their nationalities and where they developed the technique, the butterfly can therefore be considered an American invention.


Is Butterfly the Only and Original Name for this Swimming Style?

Yes, the butterfly is the one and only name for the swimming stroke. Other names related to the swimming stroke only refer to individual parts of the discipline instead of the stroke as a whole.

For example, the butterfly kick is also known as the dolphin kick, but the stroke is not known as the dolphin stroke. In fact, the dolphin kick is a shorter form of the original name, the “dolphin fishtail kick,” which was coined by Jack Sieg.

Even when the butterfly was only recognized as a variant of the breaststroke, the stroke wasn’t known by any other names other than the identifying “butterfly” arm motion.


How Is Butterfly Called in Professional Swimming?

Professional swimmers and competitive athletes in all sports usually have abbreviated or shortened words to communicate more efficiently with others in their field.

This can cause confusion for the general public, but thankfully, the butterfly stroke is only ever called the butterfly or is sometimes shortened to “fly.”

Since there are no other terms similar to those two words in the world of swimming, it is easy to know when someone is talking about this difficult stroke.

The butterfly stroke is generally considered the second fastest swimming stroke in competitive stroke, so it doesn’t even become colloquially associated with the “freestyle” like the front crawl.


Final Thoughts on What Is The Original Name For The Butterfly

Even though the butterfly is a difficult stroke that has several complex motions combined into a single set of fluid motions, it has always been known as the butterfly stroke.

What started as a desire to swim the breaststroke faster has become a separate entity and it’s possible that swimmers will come up with new strokes based on the butterfly in the future.