Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider

Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider is my second book (after The Scientist’s Guide to Writing) and my first for a general audience.

Ever since Carl Linnaeus’ 18th-century invention of the “binomial” scientific name, scientists have been naming organisms after people in ways that sometimes honour and sometimes vilify their namesakes. Charles Darwin’s Barnacle examines the fascinating stories behind eponymous naming, from Linnaeus himself naming a small and unpleasant weed after a rival botanist to the recent influx of scientific names based on pop-culture icons—including David Bowie’s spider, Frank Zappa’s jellyfish, and Beyoncé’s fly.  The book explores the naming process as an opportunity for scientists to express themselves in creative ways, and shows how scientific names are a window into both the passions and foibles of the scientific community and the ways in which humans relate to, and impose order on, the natural world.

You’ll enjoy this book if you’re interested in nature and the history of natural science; in the quirks and foibles of scientists; in words and their etymology; or in surprising connections between people, places, and the millions of species with which we share our planet.

Here’s the Table of Contents, as a teaser.

Preface (read it here!)
Introduction: A Lemur and Its Name
Chapter 1. The Need for Names
Chapter 2. How Scientific Naming Works
Chapter 3. Forsythia, Magnolia, and Names Within Names
Chapter 4. Gary Larson’s Louse
Chapter 5. Maria Sibylla Merian and the Metamorphosis of Natural History
Chapter 6. David Bowie’s Spider, Beyoncé’s Fly, and Frank Zappa’s Jellyfish (read an excerpt here!)
hapter 7. Spurlingia: a Snail for the Otherwise Forgotten
Chapter 8. The Name of Evil
Chapter 9. Richard Spruce and the Love of Liverworts
Chapter 10. Names from the Ego
Chapter 11. Eponymy Gone Wrong? Robert von Beringe’s Gorilla and Dian Fossey’s Tarsier
Chapter 12. Less Than a Tribute: the Temptation of Insult Naming (read an excerpt here!)
Chapter 13. Charles Darwin’s Tangled Bank
Chapter 14. Love in a Latin Name
Chapter 15. The Indigenous Blind Spot
Chapter 16. Harry Potter and the Name of the Species
Chapter 17. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer and the Fish from the Depths of Time
Chapter 18. Names for Sale
Chapter 19. A Fly for Mabel Alexander
Epilogue: Madame  Berthe’s Mouse Lemur


OK, it’s far too early for there to be reviews.  But please: once it’s out, if you read the book, take a moment to leave a review (good or bad!) on Amazon or Goodreads.  Posted reviews help get the word out.

What I do have: blurbs!

“In ‘Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider’, Stephen Heard tells some of the remarkable stories behind the names of species—and teaches us about how scientists make sense of the natural world along the way. A true pleasure to read.”—Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

 “More fun than you’ve ever had with taxonomy in your whole entire life! Delightfully written, thoroughly researched, makes you want to learn Latin, and will give good dinner party stories forever.”—Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, and PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology

“Stephen Heard, one of our great science storytellers,  brings his passion, curiosity and deep knowledge of biodiversity to sharing insights about our world and how it came to be.  In his hands, species names become a window into a much larger world of scientific discovery and the workings of  human nature.  His gentle, yet passionate prose makes this a book to savor.”—Neil Shubin, paleontologist and author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

 “’Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider’ is carefully researched, well-written, and contains a wealth of insightful comments. Stephen Heard is a talented writer with a good sense of humor, and he knows how to tell a story.”—Paul Faber, Oregon State University

“Stephen Heard’s prose fairly sings with enthusiasm, and he presents truly fascinating stories about the names of living things – stories I guarantee you’ve never heard before.”—Daniel Lewis, author of Belonging on an Island

 “In a poignant, precise, and friendly style, Stephen Heard introduces the foibles of Western science—or, perhaps more accurately, Western scientists. The result is beautiful, welcoming, and illuminating.”—Nicole Palffy-Muhoray, Yale Peabody Museum

Ordering links

Interested?  Charles Darwin’s Barnacle will be released on March 17, 2020.  But you don’t need to wait!  You can pre-order the book through any of these links, or of course through your favourite local bookseller.

Canada: Charles Darwin’s Barnacle via

USA: Charles Darwin’s Barnacle via

UK: Charles Darwin’s Barnacle via

France: Charles Darwin’s Barnacle via

Germany: Charles Darwin’s Barnacle via

Elsewhere: please let me know what vendor I should add to this page; or you can order directly from Yale University Press.