People are often surprised to hear that it’s perfectly legitimate to discover a new species and name it after yourself. Legitimate, that is, but not (we pretty much all agree) in good taste. And yet, every now and then, a biologist names a newly-discovered species after him- or herself.* Sometimes, the self-naming happens by accident (oops, Erhard Rohloff)**; sometimes it happen by subterfuge (nice one, Linnaeus); and sometimes it happens with a fanfare of self-adulation (really, Major Robert Tytler?). It’s not common, but among the millions of species names on record, some careful digging turns up a few unambiguous cases.
But it isn’t just species that get given eponymous names. Comets, mountains, cities… and elements. Einsteinium, bohrium, curium… but Albert Einstein didn’t name einsteinium, Niels Bohr didn’t name bohrium, and Marie Curie didn’t name curium. Has anyone ever named an element after themelves? Well, I’ve recently stumbled across (here) the curious case of gallium. Continue reading
Many of Earth’s species bear scientific names based on the names of people – for instance, Charles Darwin’s barnacle (Regioscalpellum darwini) and David Bowie’s spider (Heteropoda davidbowie). My new book explores some of the things we can learn from such “eponymous” scientific names. These names let us see something of the quirks and personalities of the scientists who engage in the creative act of naming. They also open a window on who scientists think might deserve the honour (well, usually it’s an honour) of having a species named after them. There are a lot of things you can see through that window. One of them has to do with diversity.
I don’t mean biodiversity, although it’s true enough that the Earth’s incredible biodiversity is what provides the window of naming in the first place. Instead, I mean diversity of people. Who are the people who have species named after them? Perhaps not surprisingly, answering that question reveals a scientific community with a longstanding diversity problem. Continue reading