English Names

jhimmel at connix.com jhimmel at connix.com
Tue Jun 8 13:37:27 EDT 1999

>[snip]Chris Durden has suggested that "we need an open forum for a 
>of vulgar names."  This reminded me of the way the Dragonfly Society of the
>Americas created their set of official English names:  they sent all the
>nominated names out to all their members for a vote, and then accepted the
>winning names in an entirely democratic fashion. [snip] 
>John Acorn

A mycologist friend once told me that when pressed to come up with common names 
for the mushrooms in the Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American 
Mushrooms(common names, in the editor's perception, being important in this 
series so as to appeal to a wider audience), the author gathered some of the top 
mushroom people in the field for help.  They sat around all night, drank a few 
bottles of wine, flashed slides of the 'shrooms on the screen, and shouted out 

I don't know how true this is, (or important, since I can't say how standardized 
those names became) but if anyone ever wants to try this with the moths, I'm no 
expert, but I'll bring the wine ;-) 

As a moth enthusiast, I feel as if I need to be conversant in 2 languages in 
order to make any progress; the "scientific language" - to learn, and the 
"vulgar/common/english" - to spark the interest of the general public.  It's 
more of a challenge, and I can't see how, at least with regard to the moths 
(especially the micros, who will probably never see common names), this will 
ever change.  Just too many moths, and not enough of a demand for standardized 
common names.  The exceptions lie in the moths that; are big, common & showy, 
voracious defoliators of gardens and forest, get in your cereal, eat your 
clothes, or terrorize Japanese cities.

But with regard to the butterflies, there is a demand.  And for the most part, 
it was met many years ago.  To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure of the origin 
of ALL of the common names, some of them fall out of use while their replacement 
sidles in, just as it is with many of the common names for birds (and plants).  
But there are those who in private conversations still use the old monikers.  
They almost resent the new names pinned onto the creatures they knew so well 
over the years (hey, I still won't call Harriers Harriers - they're Marsh Hawks 
dammit!)  When writing, though, and communicating with a larger audience there 
does have to be a universal language.  For now, I go by NABA's guidelines.  Why? 
 For the sole reason that most of the people I know who are interested in 
butterflies do.  And if an editor questions the name, you can at least have some 
current resource to point to.

When dealing with this list - I TRY to use both.  It's good for me, AND everyone 
knows what you're talking about.       

John Himmelman

John Himmelman
Killingworth, CT USA
jhimmel at connix.com

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