Standardized Butterfly Names

Anne Kilmer viceroy at
Sat Mar 28 10:25:35 EST 1998

Michael Gochfeld wrote:
> I agree that our so-called scientific names have more international
> recognition.  Thus a Camberwell Beauty and a Mourning Cloak might be
> recognized as the same species (although the American Copper still
> sometimes bears its appellation of L. phlaeas, even for those who have
> decided it's not conspecific with the Small Copper, L. phlaeas of
> Europe).
> However, scientific names do not have temporal or historical stability.
> Looking back at 100 year old publications (the few that used common or
> English or vulgar or colloquial names) shows that common names are more
> stable over time.
> Mike GochfeldWell, maybe. I had my grandmother's butterfly book and noted with sorrow 
that neither the English nor the scientific names seemed to hold up at 
all well. Dratted splitters.
I know that taxonomists need to earn their bread and butter too, but 
sometimes I feel ... well, the next generation will be lumpers, and 
we'll be back where we started.
What's worse, Catholics and Protestants pronounce the stuff differently; 
a distinction that will probably be lost after my generation goes 
The whole affair, therefore, carries a vague notion of heresy, and 
provokes the same sorts of sentiment.
So we need common and scientific names, please, as we decided before, 
and if the common name is in Polish, I think that's rather nice. 
Especially if the poster tells us what it means in English.
As Latin (with much Greek) was the language of scholars, and therefore 
chosen for the Linnaean scheme, so English is the language of the 
Internet and is used by us to communicate. And aren't you glad it isn't 
Japanese? (Apologies to those few that aren't.)
If the butterfly's names were both changed last week, oblige us by 
directing us to a web page, or tell us who it used to be. 
It's a matter of courtesy; not accuracy. When kind grownups are talking 
about serious matters, and notice a child listening, they do not lower 
the conversation to his level, but they use an accessible vocabulary, 
and they pause to explain when requested. Thus we create more 
Even the amateurs can make life better for the bugs we love, and support 
you scholars in the affluence you so richly deserve. ;)
Anne Kilmer
South Florida
Where the yellow and pink tabebuias give us a bit of trouble when it 
comes to naming them, but none when it comes to loving them at this 
time of year.  
So we have then clarity, accuracy and courtesy, these three, and the 
greatest of them ...

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