Category Archives: Latin names

Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Latin names

Image: Gnorimoscheme gallaesolidaginis (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), © Tom Murray CC BY-ND-NC 1.0

 Warning: judgy and subjective.

 If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ll know I have a strange and nerdy fascination with Latin names of plants and animals. People often think (my undergraduates always think) Latin names are long, obscure, boring, and unpronounceable.  But they’re wrong.  Latin names can be wonderful – and I have a series of posts saying so.  They can be delightful to say.  They can celebrate scientific heroes or pop-culture ones.  They can keep alive the memory of people otherwise forgotten.  Sometimes they can do all those things at once.  I think of Latin names as loose threads that, when pulled on, often reveal unexpected and fascinating stories.

But. Continue reading

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Wonderful Latin Names: Salacca zalacca 

Images: Salacca zalacca, botanical print from unknown source, presumed public domain; via Swallowtail Garden Seeds.  Salak fruits by Midori CC BY-3.0 via wikimedia.org.

 Latin names have a reputation as horribly difficult to pronounce.  Sometimes this is true: I’ve worked on the moth Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis for over 20 years, and I still don’t know if I’m pronouncing it correctly.  But other Latin names roll wonderfully off the tongue: the clove tree Syzygium and the hoopoe Upupa epops, for example.

Few roll as wonderfully off the tongue as Salacca zalacca, though. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin names: Spurlingia darwini

Photo: Spurlingia forsteriana, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie, Leiden (photo released to public domain).  No photos of S. darwini appear to be online.

“How many species have been named for Charles Darwin?”, I wondered a couple of hours ago, before tumbling down an internet rabbithole looking for the answer.  The answer, as I’m sure you’d guess, is a lot.  This paper lists about 260 animal taxa named for Darwin (I’m excluding the ones named after places that had in their turn been named after Darwin).  But there are plenty of plants, too, so the best answer I can find to my question is the maddeningly imprecise “hundreds”. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin names: Eriovixia gryffindori

Photos: Eriovixia gryffindori, from Ahmed et al. 2016 Indian J. Arachnology 5:24-27; photo Sumukha J.N., used by permission.  Sorting hat, on display at La Cité du Cinéma (Saint-Denis, Paris), in “Harry Potter, l’exposition”; photo by Suzelfe CC BY-SA 4.0 (crop).

A new spider species, Eriovixia gryffindori, has recently been discovered and described from southwestern India (by a team consisting of Javed Ahmed, Rajashree Khalap and Sumukha J.N.).  The new spider’s name makes me smile.  The species name gryffindori, of course, comes from the Harry Potter universe*.  It’s not the first species name to be derived that way (consider also the spider Aname aragog and the wasp Ampulex dementor) – but I admire the naming first for its appropriateness, and second for the way the authors dedicate it. Continue reading

Statuette of Lt. Worf

Are there any Klingon “Latin” names?

Photo: Lt. Worf, the Klingon Chief of Security on the USS Enterprise-D, © patrles71 via flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.  Worf has not named (will not name?) any species, but he could. At least one has been named for him.

If you’ve been reading Scientist Sees Squirrel for a while, you’ll know that I’m weirdly fascinated by the etymologies of species’ Latin names.  Actually, “Latin” names don’t always have Latin etymologies, and names have been derived from a surprising diversity of languages.  In fact, a while back I mentioned in passing that it would be perfectly legitimate, according to the codes of zoological and botanical nomenclature, to coin a “Latin” name from a Klingon derivation.  This, of course, raises an obvious question: has anyone? Continue reading

Commerson's dolphins

Commerson’s Dolphin and ego naming: a (minor) mystery solved

Photos: Commerson’s Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) in the Strait of Magellan, by Miguel Vieira via flickr.com; CC BY 2.0.  Bougainvillea by Andrew Schmidt via publicdomainpictures.net, released to public domain. Syngrapha hochenwarthi, by Dumi via wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

Everyone knows, of course, that Latin names are often based on names of people: the namer might choose to honour a friend, a colleague, a celebrity, a prominent public figure, or a deserving scientist.  But do namers ever succumb to the temptation to honour themselves?  If I were to describe a new goldenrod species, say, could or should I name it Solidago heardi?

I’d never thought about this until I stumbled across a claimed case of such ego-naming. Continue reading

XKCD cartoon: "Literally"

Why I’m going back to saying “Latin” names

Image: xkcd #725, by Randall Munroe, CC BY-NC 2.5

Warning: trivial.

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve noticed that I frequently return to the fascinating stories behind the scientific, or Latin, names of Earth’s species.  (If you haven’t, you may think using “fascinating” and “Latin names” in the same sentence is a bit much. But I beg to differ.)  But which are they – “scientific names” or “Latin names”? Continue reading