Common names

John Acorn janature at
Thu Jun 3 02:51:24 EDT 1999

Fellow Lep-namers,

Michael Gochfeld argues that English names for species be capitalized, while
Anne Kilmer thinks they should not.  The whole thing seems to hinge on
whether a species deserves a name that is "a proper noun in that it denote a
specific entity."  This reminds me of the long, confusing, and largely
unresolved debate in systematics regarding whether a species should be
considered a group or an individual.  For the most part, even discussing
these things allows one to wander way too deeply into metaphysics for any
hope of a clear answer.

However, I have to say that as a nature writer myself, I use capitals for
all names that refer to species, for exactly the reasons that Michael
explained.  No one I have spoken with here in North America has ever
considered them old-fashioned, and it seems to me that the only way to do
without them is to write only for those who already know all of the names,
and recognize them when they appear.  That's fine for some birders, but hey,
there are a lot of insects out there with brand new shiny names that most
people have not yet encountered!

Mind you, I have the luxury of dealing with publishers who are willing to
take my advice...

John Acorn
Edmonton, Alberta

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