Meaning of Names - Help required

Will Pratt prattw at
Mon Feb 1 10:40:02 EST 1999

>John Patterson wrote:
>> Victor,
>> Yes I am still interested.
>> I have not found anything to help me in my local library
>> If it is possible I would really appreciate a translated copy of the
relevant pages.
>> If you have to spend any money please tell me and I will find a way to
send it to you.
>> I really appreciate you help. Many thanks  John
>> > > I understand that Lepidoptera comes from the Greek and that Lepis =
>> > > 'scale' and pteron = 'wing'
>> > > I am aware that there are 9 families of European Butterflies:
>> > > Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae, Riodinidae, Libytheidae,
>> > > Nymphalidae, Satyridae, Hesperiidae.
>> > > If you look at Nymphalidae - I know what a Nymph is, but what has
>> > > got to do with this group of Butterflies.
>> > > John Patterson


Family names are derived from the name of the type genus (there are various
rules for determining this).  Thus Papilionidae is based upon the type genus
_Papilio_.  _Papilio_ itself is the genitive of the Latin papilionis, "a
butterfly or moth".  A very good English-language treatment is Edmund C.
Jaeger, 1955, _A source-book of biological names and terms_, 3rd ed.,
(Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas).  My personal copy is of the 3rd printing,
in 1962, but I believe that the book is still in print, many, many printings
later.  Although Jaeger is more readable, and easier to use, another
possibility is Donald J. Borror, 1960, _Dictionary of word roots and
combining forms_, which is also intended specifically for biological names.

Be advised, names are not always derived from Latin or Greek, and may be
hybrid compounds.  And many are patronymics, based on someone's name.  The
ultimate authority on the formation of names and the rules about their use
is the _International code of Zoological nomenclature_, which I do _not_
recommend for light reading unless you are an attorney.

Hope this is of some help,


William L. Pratt, Ph.D., Curator of Invertebrates, Barrick Museum
Mail Stop 4012, Univ. Nevada, Las Vegas 89154-4012
(702) 895-1403; Fax (702) 895-3094; prattw at

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