English Names

Cris Guppy & Aud Fischer cguppy at quesnelbc.com
Mon Jun 7 22:50:34 EDT 1999

One thing that may help to stabilize English names is the publication of the
etymology of the English names as well as the Latin names that they are
frequently derived from (or vice versa, for the oldest Latin names). My
opinion is that one reason for stability of English common names is that the
etymology of their names is well known, another reason is that they worked
their way through a period of instability a 100 years ago. Us "New World"
folks are too raw and unsettled to have reached stability yet.

For North America, Buts of Alberta made a start at etymology (with lots of
errors) and Buts of BC will expand on it, hopefully with fewer errors. Once
the origin of a name is known, it will have more meaning and hopefully will
be more stable.

Regarding John Acorn's comments: The Lep. Soc. list of common names was just
a list, with the most frequently use name place first. The Lep. Soc. could
not agree to make an official list, and Jacky Miller's list is NOT an
official list. The NABA list is THEIR official list, and need not be paid
attention to unless one chooses to acknowledge their self-proclaimed
authority. That is not to say that attention should not be paid to the
existing lists (and books), but it means that there is nothing official
about either list. Above all it should be remembered that common names are
the names PEOPLE choose, and ultimately they will use the names they like
best. "Voting" will be through usage. So anyone who likes or dislikes a
particular common name should publise the reason, rather than just saying
"because someone else used it". And since there is no "official" body to
arbitrate common names, reasoned discussion rather than authority is what
will eventually bring stability. It is also worth keeping in mind that the
majority (75+%?, I have not counted) of North American common names ARE
STABLE. So most of the comments about instability are based on a minority of
butterfly species.

Why should the scientific community jump in and dictate common names? They
already use Latin names and do not normally use common names when discussing
butterflies. Those who prefer to use common names should be the ones to
create them.

Regarding instability of Latin names: when they are changed to reflect well
documented new data on relationships between species, that is good science
and is to be applauded. Most of the Latin name changes that have occurred in
recent years are the result of good science that is likely to result in long
term stability. However electrophoretic, DNA and detailed morphological
comparisons are just beginning, so I expect numerous more name changes over
the next 20 years or more. It is unfortunate that this will make life
difficult for the amateur (and professional for that matter), but taxonomy
and systematics are supposed to reflect reality and not be determined by
convenience. Besides it will keep the butterfly book market expanding, so
that everyone can keep up with the name changes (tongue in cheek).

All of which is terribly preachy, and I will say nothing more because I hate
being preachy. Instead I will go find some butterflies, they don't care what
they are called!

More information about the Leps-l mailing list