NABA / The Necessary Clout? (was E Names)

Mike Quinn mqnature at
Thu Jun 17 23:24:21 EDT 1999

I haven't read all posts on the Name Topic (who could?) but this one caught
my eye:

At 09:01  8/06/99 -0600, John Acorn wrote:


>Right now,
>NABA's list is the closest thing there is to a standardized list, and until
>that changes I plan to follow it, despite irritating behaviour on the part
>of that society (of which I am, yes, a member).
>Chris Durden has suggested that "we need an open forum for a standardization
>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.  Now it seems to me that in
>the realm of butterflies, "science" is represented by the Lepidopterists'
>Society.  If anyone on the LS excecutive is reading this, perhaps they could
>explain why the society has not taken a leadership role in standardizing
>butterfly names in North America.  If the society chooses not to do this,
>could they perhaps turn the task over to the ESA, and appeal to them to
>provide the sort of authority that true standardization requires?  NABA
>doesn't have the neccessary clout to pull it off, and my question is simply,
>who does and why don't they do it?


Dear John,

I was really enjoying your post until I got to the last few sentences
above. I believe that NABA has demonstrated that they do have the clout
that "true standardization" requires. The US Geological Survey uses the
NABA English names, as does the Nature Conservancy, as does the latest
editions of the Peterson butterfly field guides, as do most of the
butterfliers that I talk to.

NABA has approximately twice the number of members that The Lepidopterists'
Society has. NABA began in 1992 with 300 charter members and now has over
3000 members. From 14 October 1992 until 24 October 1996, The
Lepidopterists' Society (established 1947) actually *declined* slightly
from 1,591 members in 56 countries to
1,568 members in 60 countries.

The latest issue of "American Butterflies" arrived in the mail today. In it
NABA welcomes 7 new NABA chapters from 5 states. This brings the total
number of NABA chapters to 23. Nearly every page of their attractive
magazine has a color photograph of a living butterfly. Although there is an
increasing amount of artwork in the "News of the Lepidopterists' Society,"
the only living Lepidoptera in the latest issue of the "Journal of the
Lepidopterists' Society" is a black and white photograph of a larva of
*Myscelia cyaniris cyaniris.* (Though there are many line drawings of
lepidotera reproductive structures. ;-))

I found it interesting that half of the contributors to the current issue
of "American Butterflies" are Ph.D. entomologists and I believe that the
remaining contributors also hold advanced degrees though outside of
entomology. NABA may turn out to play the role for entomology that the
Audubon Society plays for ornithology, being a stronger voice for
conservation than the ESA is, but for now NABA seems content to watch

My personal experience at Texas A&M University suggests that it is far
easier to get the general public interested in butterflies as NABA has
done, than it would be to get professional entomologists such as the
Entomological Society of America to focus the English names of butterflies.
A&M has about 70 graduate students in their entomology department, making
it one of the largest entomology departments in the United States. During
my years at A&M, I was treated to nonstop derision, albeit mostly light
heartedly, because of my interests in butterflies. I was once ridiculed by
a Dipterist for expressing an interest in both butterflies *and* birds.
(However, I got the last laugh as the "maggotologist" ended up marrying a
lepidopterist!!!) I suspect that similar treatment befalls most students
interested in butterflies at other land grand institutions in the US. My
point is that too few professional entomologist seem to be willing to work
towards the popularization of entomology.

NABA has developed a working list of English names that many institutions
have since adopted. John, you yourself said:

>One thing I keep coming
>back to is the impression that readers do not want the most rational or best
>justified set of English names, they want a standard set, and stability is
>seen as a primary role of taxonomy, at which the specialists are perceived
>to be failing.

Jeffrey Glassberg himself didn't agree with many of the English names
adopted in 1995 by the NABA Committee for English Names of North American
Butterflies (hereafter "The Committee"), but he used almost all of them in
his new book.

If another organization puts out another list at this point, I don't think
it would be helpful. Regardless of whether the most respected lepidopterist
in the world were to choose the English names or if all the lepidopterists
in the world voted on the English names, strong disagreements would still
ensue. (The current President was elected, twice, but some people still
don't agree.)

Frankly, the professionals had their chance (since 1947) and didn't take
it. (The ESA had their chance since 1889.) Seems to me that only after the
pros are seeing the popular success that NABA enjoys, is there much talk of
an "Official" list. (If the pros aren't careful, "NAMA" might form and make
a list of English names for moths! ;-)) I think that if the Lep Soc tried
to formulate such a list now, most would see the effort as a
"NABA-fication" of the the Society. I don't even know if such a list would
be widely adopted given the static membership of the Society while the
NABA's membership is growing rapidly.

If any North American wants to use English names, I would recommend using
NABA's. If there is a name that you particularly disagree with and have a
valid reason for changing it, then by all means send The Committee your
recommendation. They are about to meet to discuss any possible revisions.

Finally, I don't think entomologist should follow in the foot steps of the
botany folks. The plants have SO MANY English names that the names can only
be compared to weeds! Many field guides actually list 2 and even 3 English
names for the plants covered therein! Falling back on the scientific names
is now one's only recourse. The situation with English names in botany has
reached the worst case scenario where one English name can be "correctly"
applied to more than one plant species. The nursery trade is constantly
flooded with new hybrids, cultivated varieties and exotics that come and
go. About the best I can do to deal with that situation is to try and learn
the genus and use the flower color as a modifier.

Mike Quinn, Donna, TX

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