Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels

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 function as 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. Want to know more?  Click the links to read the Preface and an excerpt of one chapter.

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
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. 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.

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

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