Tag Archives: insults

Less than a tribute: when Latin names are insults

This is an excerpt from a longer essay exploring the darker side of eponymous Latin naming, which will appear as a chapter in my forthcoming book .

 When Carl Linnaeus invented modern “binomial” Latin names, he freed scientific naming from the necessity of carrying a full description of every named species.  This made it possible, for the first time, for a scientist naming a new species to honour someone admirable or notable.  We can all point to species named that way: Berberis darwini, for example, or Spurlingia, or any of several species named for Maria Sibylla Merian.  But any tool that can build can also tear down; and just as Latin names can honour, they can dishonour.  Linnaeus was the first to use naming to celebrate scientists who had gone before him – but as it turns out, he was also the first to succumb to temptation, and use Latin naming to insult someone with whom he had quarreled.  He wouldn’t, as we’ll see, be the last. Continue reading