True vernaculars and old cladograms

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Wed Jun 9 13:08:04 EDT 1999

I vowed to myself that I was done with the name thread, but then I saw a really good point that Kevin raised. His point was that organisms were named by scientists and venacular names were added later.  One of the points recently raised from Britain is that vernacular names for some species were centuries-old, thereby antedating Linnaean Nomenclature (1758, Systema Naturae 10th edition). 

It is in the non-English speaking, non-European speaking "rest of the world" that "WE" have created vernacular names that are novel and are not really "common" names. 

But it is likely that indigenous people in these regions have names for the different creatures---at least those that can be distinguished in the field or hand. 

For instance, E. T. Gilliard interviewed a Sepik naturalist in New Guinea and found that he recognized and had distinct names for 129 of the 130 species that Gilliard documented for the region. We could learn to prounounce those names and adopt them as regional vernacular names. 

In Hawaii and New Zealand, the "common" names of most native birds are native names. As the taxa become smaller in size (not numerosity) and less distinguishable to the unaided eye, however, people tend to give them a group name.  For example, Damselfly and Bumblebee are good enough for most people(s), so that most species didn't get distinguished enough to get a common name. 

When I was at the American Museum of Natural History, the cladists vs the phylogeneticists represented two armed camps, which regaled us as students with eloquent but often ad hominem attacks. Some of the cladistic analyses of families produced very different "trees" depending on which characters were used, and resolution seemed to require the same value judgements that the cladists denounced the phylogeneticists for. I know that cladistic technique has improved dramatically in the past 30 years, and I'm not aware of how often new characters undermine accepted cladograms. 

Mike Gochfeld

More information about the Leps-l mailing list