Names (and other subjects)
viceroy at anu.ie
Mon Jun 14 02:36:16 EDT 1999
To grasp this naming gig, I picture Linnaeus and a few of his buddies
sitting round a table, in comfy chairs, a good mug of ale in hand. It's
a sort of trivia game.
"Ok, Bumblebees," says a buddy. "Bombus, obviously," says Linnaeus.
"Honeybees?" "Apis". (for these critters already had Latin or Greek
names, and he just used them.
So they're getting punchy and they start to kid around. "This ol' weed,"
says one guy, holding up a dayflower. "Tradescantia," says the great
man, and chuckles. They all chuckle sycophantically. There are three
petals on the flower; three Tradescant brothers ... but one petal is
small, and one brother doesn't amount to much.
So, for all time, this brother is remembered.
Picture the task. You're trying to think of thousands and thousands of
names, and you'd like to use the extant ones, and you'd like there to be
a coherence and pattern where possible.
You are not thinking of Michael and Anne, who will have to memorize a
slew of these names to get through school, and who would like the name
to say what the beast is, or what the beast is like.
Subsequent namers, having learned the existing names, decided to give us
a chance ... some of them. And, after naming their first bugs after
their wives, children, friends, they started naming them black-striped
or pink underwing or whatever .. translated into Latin.
For the common names, they just translated them back. But the odds are
that these are common names most of us will never see, let alone
American butterflies mostly didn't get named until things were pretty
well organized, styles had been established, and most of the namers
weren't playing with our heads. These were names to be used; not names
to make editors happy. Often, they do describe the characteristics of
the butterfly, but there is no rule that says they have to.
Showy ones though had been collected, taken abroad, and named by early
namers ... or belonged to family and genus that had already been named.
There are many, many Heliconiids, although I think there are fewer than
the splitters think there are.
(Greek mountains. Well, lessee. There's Parnassus, Olympus, Helicon ...
OK, Helicon then. Ok, names associated with Helicon .. the muses, the
graces ... that enough? No?)
So we come now to the task Nigel and his allies are up against. Let me
share with you the url he so kindly gave me, so that you can see the
task of naming, laid out.
You will note, as you wander through its pages, that what Nigel was
doing with his time was finding larvae on nasty thorny plants, rearing
them out, and, mostly, finding out that they were butterflies people had
already named ... which is fine, of course. Nice to know which
caterpillar goes with each butterfly.
It's a page of Charaxes (Linnaeus thought they were Papilio, but never
mind that.) Some of them, for common names, are named things like
blue-spotted, two-spotted ... some have African names, some are
Nigel named one of his after his daughter (who had probably fetched more
acacia leaves than you have had hot dinners); the other bears his family
name. It's a modest enough taking, when you look at how many
caterpillars he reared and identified (and I doubt only one Charaxes is
blue-spotted or two-spotted).
You don't go into this enterprise seeking fame or fortune; it's the joy
of fitting pieces together ... here's a bit of the edge; here's a piece
But, for each man at the front, there is needed a support troop of
armchair observers, lab people, college professors. We'll use the names
the explorers come up with and, although they have the right to choose,
we certainly have a right to remark upon their choices.
Thinking of Amanda, imagining her helping her Daddy (or having to do
without him, which is much worse) I'm glad she has her own butterfly.
Michael Gochfeld wrote:
> According to Paul Opler's BUTTERFLIES EAST OF THE GREAT PLAINS,
> Heliconius "is derived from Helicon, a mountain in Bocotia devoted to
> Appolon and the muses." charitonius "is derived from Charities, the
> three graces or goddesses of beauty." I see no indication that this
> would refer to a stripy or "zebroid" creature.
More information about the Leps-l