Standardized Butterfly Names
fnkwp at aurora.alaska.edu
Fri Mar 27 21:53:32 EST 1998
Wanda Dameron has created an interesting situation with regard to
any older lepidopterists who prefer to use scientific names--they are
apparently, as soon as they open their mouths on the subject, members
of a private little club of snobs. Was such an _ad hominem_ approach
As one of those old-timers (although to me the _real_ old-timers
are people like Harry Clench, Charles Remington, F. Martin Brown, and
others), I would like to mention some justification for the use of
scientific names--at least in some circumstances. I think I'll refrain
from bringing up the emotions or motives of 'Johnny-come-latelies', or
whatever the pejorative opposite of 'old-timers' is. It's really
easier to keep derogatory comments out of it...
One of the main problems in butterfly taxonomy these days is the
relationship between the Nearctic and Palaearctic fauna. (For those who
object to scientific names, that's the northern part of the New World
and the Old World). In many cases, the same species may have received
different scientific names in the two regions. In other cases, what has
been presumed to be the same species may actually be two (or more)
different species in the two regions.
The regions involved include the U.S., Canada, all the countries
of Europe, and all of northern Asia (including Russia, of course). It is
simply _impossible_ to discuss the butterfly fauna of this vast region
while using the local common names (anybody familiar with the Russian
common names here, let alone Finnish?).
There have recently been some Leps-L postings about Holarctic
butterflies (that's Old & New Worlds combined). I doubt _anyone_ with
a taxonomic or biogeographical interest in the Holarctic fauna would
welcome a nice list of common names in the language of each country
involved! There are already enough problems with scientific names... :-)
The NABA may have its own reasons for preferring English names
(which, of course, are not _English_ English names, as any of the Leps-
L members from the British Isles can tell us), but please do not denigrate
the people who are working with the Holarctic fauna and prefer to use
internationally-recognized scientific names. There's really nothing else
they can do.
And I can't resist a few parting shots, as follows: Common names
are sometimes longer than scientific names. Gardeners talk about their
crysanthemums and rhododendrons, apparently ignorant of the fact that
these are scientific names. The real 'problem' with scientific names is
their unfamiliarity, not their length. But to someone starting out in
butterfly collecting or watching, almost all names are unfamiliar.
Whatever they do, they're going to have to learn a large number of
unfamiliar names. One set of those names lets them communicate with
anyone in the world, whatever languages they speak.
Use your common names to your heart's content--but if you care to
spend the time to learn the scientific names you will greatly enhance
your ability to find information about these creatures from all parts
of the world. And should you ever feel the need to consult one of the
major North American museum collections, you will find a surprising
absence of English names on the labels, at least until the present
old-fogy curators have been replaced by more politically correct (?)
younger people. End of sermon (from a snobbish old-timer).
fnkwp at aurora.alaska.edu
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