Tag Archives: languages

“Latin” names that aren’t Latin

Image: Razorbill (Alca torda), photo S. Heard.

(This is a lightly edited version of a post that originally ran in March 2015. But you probably didn’t see it then.)

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you’ll know that I have something of an obsession with Latin names.  Or, I should say, “Latin” names.  As my pedantic friend Alex has pointed out to me repeatedly and correctly, what I’ve been calling “Latin names” all my life (for instance, here, here, and here) are not always Latin at all. As Alex points out, “scientific names” is a more accurate term (although I still use “Latin name” here on Scientist Sees Squirrel; here’s why).

While a large fraction of Latin names have Latin derivations, there are examples of names based on words from many, many languages (although  their form is generally Latinized.)  Greek is, unsurprisingly, the next most common; but there are many less obvious ones. So I thought it would be fun to dig up some good examples, and I present them here in the form of a quiz. 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

“Latin” names that aren’t Latin

Image: Razorbill (Alca torda), photo S. Heard.

My friend Alex is nearly as pedantic as I am. Now and again on Twitter one of us will revel in correcting the other (in a friendly yet taunting manner) on some point of grammar or usage. Recently he got me good: what I’ve been calling “Latin names” all my life (for instance, here, here, and here) are not always “Latin” at all. I knew this perfectly well, of course, but nonetheless have been a bit sloppy. Alex points out here that “scientific names” is a more accurate term [edit: for a while, I used “scientific name” on Scientist Sees Squirrel; but I’ve changed my mind and reverted to “Latin name”]. I should have made this clearer, earlier.

But on to the issue that made me eat crow. While a large fraction of Latin names have Latin derivations, there are examples of names based on words from many, many languages. Greek is of course the next most common (the crow I ate, Corvus brachyrhynchos, has a Latin genus name but a Greek specific epithet). But there are many less obvious ones; for instance, I recently blogged about the Arabic derivation of Abudefduf. So I thought it would be fun to dig up some good examples, and to increase the fun, here they are in the form of a quiz. Continue reading