Tag Archives: etymology

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

What’s in a (Latin) name?

Photos: Magnolia blossoms CC0 via pixabay.com; bust of Pierre Magnol CC BY-SA 3.0 by Albertvillanovadelmoral via wikimedia.org

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I write for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license . If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

Our Garden has hundreds of plant species – many planted, and many more growing wild. That’s just the tip of the botanical iceberg, though – there are about 400,000 plant species on Earth. Keeping track of these is a big challenge, and of course the first step is to give them all names. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin Names, Part 6: Syzygium aromaticum

Photos: S. aromaticum flowers by Hafiz Issadeen CC BY-ND 2.0 via flickr.com; S. aromaticum leaves by Forest & Kim Starr CC BY 3.0 via wikimedia.org.

A couple of weeks ago I described the evolutionary history in each jar of my mango chutney. My chutney has 19 botanical ingredients, and I looked up the Latin name of each one to locate it on the angiosperm phylogeny. I was delighted, in doing so, to discover that cloves are Syzygium aromaticum*.

The species name aromaticum is certainly appropriate to cloves, which have one of the loveliest aromas to grace my kitchen. We can thank Linnaeus for aromanticum, but that’s not what makes the clove tree the 6th installment in my series on Wonderful Latin Names. Instead, it’s the genus name Syzygium that made my day. That’s because it shares roots with one of my very favourite English words, syzygy. Who wouldn’t love a word that flies off the tongue like a feather-fletched arrow leaving a bow? A word with three vowels, all of them y’s? A word with meanings in poetry, biology, and astronomy? Continue reading