The honor of naming a newly found species is high on the list of distinguished positions. Choosing a good name for a newly found organism is, as you might expect, a serious undertaking that needs a lot of deliberation and study. However, scientists do occasionally have fun with the process, as we’ll see in a little. But what matters for this discussion is that they are required to adhere to a very extensive set of regulations while doing so.
You see, there’s a tried-and-true system of binomial nomenclature that has been around since the 18th century that scientists must adhere to when naming newly found creatures. The process of giving creatures their official names was first codified by the illustrious naturalist Carl Linnaeus and is detailed in a large book like The Lord of the Rings. We will provide a condensed version of the content from the book The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature since it covers a lot more ground than is required for this post.
The rules do state, no author should propose a name that, to his or her knowledge or reasonable belief, would be likely to give offense on any grounds. So, to answer the question asked at the beginning of the article, a newly discovered creature’s name needs to be unique and, more importantly, approved by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.
Also, there’s the less strict but widely followed guideline that says you shouldn’t name a newly found species after yourself. Why? Judith Winston, emeritus curator of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, put it this way: “That’s tacky.”
Even while it doesn’t violate any particular rule, Winston claims that certain taxonomy “purists” would look down on someone who names a new creature using a combination of Greek and Latin, considering it somewhat vulgar. We can also expect such individuals to be a drag at social gatherings.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s important to remember that anyone can name a new creature anything they like, provided they follow the guidelines. As a result, many have gone after prominent people, either to draw attention to the work of these scientists or just to pay tribute to someone they hold in high esteem.
Take Ferdinando Boero, for Instance
He was an expert in jellyfish and a huge fan of Frank Zappa’s music. Boero chose to merge his two loves for the sole purpose of meeting and paying tribute to Zappa. Boero, an Italian national who lived in Genoa, sought out a distinguished fellowship to investigate jellyfish in Northern California in order to do this. When Boero arrived, he continued to scan the area for any signs of the creature’s new species. After he had narrowed it down to a handful, he sent a letter to Zappa, politely requesting the singer’s permission to use his name as the official scientific moniker for a unique jellyfish. “Having a jellyfish named after me would be the most wonderful thing in the world,” Zappa said Boero in a letter sent by his wife.
Boero collected several samples upon getting the message and hastened to Zappa’s residence in Los Angeles to inquire as to which jellyfish the singer felt the strongest affinity for. As a token of his gratitude, Zappa chose a jellyfish that Boero subsequently named Phialella zappai after him.
The sole member of the genus Crikey, a snail native to northern Queensland, was officially titled Crikey steveirwini in tribute to the late Crocodile Hunter—yet another celebrity to be honored with such a nomenclature. Note the term “honor” in the previous phrase; from what we can gather, almost every time a famous person or prominent scientist has had something named after them, they have taken it as a complement. We also found that the naming of a creature is almost always seen as a compliment by the person who does it, even if the creature in question isn’t precisely the kind of thing that one would expect to be permanently linked with positive associations in scientific literature.
The Protocol in Naming Creatures
Naming creatures in the scientific realm adheres to a stringent protocol called Binomial Nomenclature. This system encompasses two names, the genus, and species, defining an organism. These names encapsulate defining characteristics or features.
Roots in Discovery and Habitat
Often, scientific names are reflective of the creature’s habitat or where it was initially discovered. For instance, Anthomyia ottawana was named by Ken Griffiths, denoting the place of its discovery, Ottawa. These names serve as geographic indicators or descriptors of the creature’s traits.
The Undertone of Naming Species After Oneself
While a species might carry the name of its discoverer, naming a species after oneself is generally discouraged. It’s perceived as a faux pas in the scientific community, raising questions about humility and professional conduct. Though, there are instances of species names bearing resemblance to their discoverer’s Latinized names, blurring these lines.
Unearthing the Motive Behind Naming
The act of naming species after oneself often stirs controversy. Scientists are usually motivated by recognition, honor, or respect for a colleague or mentor. However, ego-driven motivations that cloud scientific objectivity are typically frowned upon in the scholarly sphere.
Etiquette and Recognition in Nomenclature
The etiquette in species naming revolves around honoring contributions or acknowledging a notable figure’s impact on a specific field. Scientific nomenclature is an avenue for homage, recognition, or commemoration rather than a platform for settling scores or expressing dislike.
Reflections on Naming in Science
Scientific naming conventions are steeped in tradition and decorum, aiming for objectivity, respect, and recognition within the scholarly community. The practice reflects the values of the scientific world, emphasizing humility, acknowledgement, and adherence to established protocols. Naming out of spite contradicts these fundamental principles and remains a rarity in the domain of scholarly taxonomy.
While uncommon, instances of spiteful nomenclature exist in the scientific domain. One such example revolves around a scientist who, discontent with a colleague, named a parasitic worm after them, subtly reflecting a form of academic disdain through nomenclature.
In a peculiar case, a scientist who felt slighted or envious of a peer resorted to naming a previously undocumented insect species after the perceived rival. This subtle form of mockery, though rare, exemplifies the potential for personal sentiments influencing scientific taxonomy.
In the annals of taxonomy, some instances exist where scientists subtly inserted cryptic references to individuals they held disdain for within the scientific names of newly discovered species. These veiled references serve as unconventional markers of personal grudges in academic spheres.
Occasionally, within the intricate fabric of scientific nomenclature, lie names bearing hidden animosity. Such names, camouflaged within the taxonomy, stand as discreet but unmistakable markers of academic or personal contempt, shrouded in scholarly terminology.
In certain rare and discreet instances, taxonomic names have been attributed to reflect personal animosities or rivalries among scientists. Such instances, although atypical, reveal the potential for academic grievances to manifest subtly within the scientific lexicon.
In the intricate world of taxonomy, the naming of species occasionally conceals nuanced narratives of academic friction. These obscure yet discernible instances serve as glimpses into the complex human dynamics interwoven within the scientific lexicon. While uncommon, these acts subtly depict the potential for personal sentiments to shape the nomenclature, introducing an intriguing layer of cryptic expression to the taxonomy.