Names . . .
DR. JAMES ADAMS
jadams at Carpet.dalton.peachnet.edu
Wed Jun 9 10:30:06 EDT 1999
Well, I was going to stay out of this discussion this
round, as I have had a lot to say in past rounds of this discussion,
but I couldn't help myself.
Just a few points:
1. It bothers me to hear people talk about "resistance to" or "fear
of" learning "scientific" names. I *do* think part of the problem is
some of us scientists; we need to be willing and open to the general
public, and willing to use common names when communicating with
people who don't know the scientific names. To call them "Latin"
names, however, is a joke. "Latinized" maybe. Alright, alright,
some of the names are well-thought-through latin representations of
something that has to do with the actual creature being described,
but some have their roots in other languages (like Greek, etc.), and
just as many are simply creative mind-wisps (the hymenopteran
genera "Aha" and "Ohno" come to mind -- look at Doug Yanega's website
and you'll see a huge sampling of scientific names that are far from
being either Latin or scientific). However, I do think that the
general public can learn these names easily if we just look at them
as another set of names. The flower people learn them simply
because those are the names that the flowers have. Well, gee whiz,
guess what? The same is true for *all* scientific names of *all*
organisms. They have the name -- it just needs to be grasped with
enthusiasm. Unfortunately, maybe Anne is right and we need to teach
people this early. If scientific names are presented in an
appropriate environment from an enthusiastic presenter, people would
be much less afraid of the names and much more willing to learn.
2. About pronunciation. Ken was right -- don't worry about it!!
Give it your best shot, and even if you are not technically correct,
if you are able to pronounce the individual letters you should be
able to produce a pronunciation that is recognizable to virtually
everyone. As for those scientists who demand precise enunciation, I
say "pblpblpblfft"! I like knowing what the exact pronunciation is
(although this also may differ in different parts of the world, as
was indicated before), but am thrilled when anyone is interested in
learning these names.
3. As for stability. I think the point has clearly been made about
communication across the face of the globe. Common names simply are
not useful for this. I truly *do* believe that the English speaking
world is very ethnocentric in terms of demanding common name usage.
This is nothing short of inconsiderate and rude to the rest of the
world (I have news for you -- English speakers are still the minority
in the world!). Although it may be possible to make common names
reasonably stable in one language in one location, clearly it is
impossible to do this worldwide. On the other hand, this is exactly
the point of scientific names. Okay, so there is also instability in
the scientific names, but each day progress is made toward more
stability. I do have news for everyone -- *no* set of names, common
or scientific, is ever going to be completely stable. Don't forget,
humans came up with the names in the first place, and as long as
humans are involved in the process (which is forever) there will be
differences in opinion. All that aside, scientific names do allow
you to reach a much wider audience, and also indicate relatedness
between organisms as has been discussed previously. Don't get me
wrong, I do use common names for butterflies and for a lot of moths,
and some of these indicate relatedness appropriately as well. It is
important to know these as well, especially if you want to teach
someone the scientific names that go with species for which they
already know the common names. Understand, though, that common names
can also be misleading in terms of relationships. The Great-Spangled
Fritillary, the Variegated Fritillary, all the Lesser Fritillaries,
although all nymphalids, are reasonably closely related but certainly
not congeneric. Throw in the Gulf Fritillary (at least in a
different subfamily) and the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary (the only
metalmark in Europe) and you can see what I mean.
What to make of all of this? Don't be frightened of learning
*either* set of names. Learning scientific names can be fun, but
doesn't automatically put you above your common-name using public,
and knowing common names doesn't make you any less scientific.
That's it (hopefully) . . .
Dr. James K. Adams
Dept. of Natural Science and Math
Dalton State College
213 N. College Drive
Dalton, GA 30720
Phone: (706)272-4427; fax: (706)272-2533
U of Michigan's President James Angell's
Secret of Success: "Grow antennae, not horns"
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