Friday, December 30, 2022

Common Names versus Scientific Names

I saw an article once that investigated the relationship between 'caring about', general interest, and approachable nomenclature. I agree with the author of that article that there is a relation (I am avoiding judgemental words like correlation or causal connection) that goes both ways. People don't care if they can't relate to something, but also, true specific common names are not created when there is no interest. And just negative interest that generates names like Murder Hornet or Fire Ant or Kissing Bug or Brown Recluse is not really enough either: People love to throw those names at anything related (any wasp or ant or bug or spider in this case) that scares or stings them. There are other examples that are more positive like the 'common' names created for Butterflies, Tigerbeetles and Dragonflies. All three groups have a positive reputation to begin with, so English species names were created, just like for birds. How accepted are those? Are they just another layer of labels that we scientists now have to learn? Is the general public now more interested? That remains to be seen. Another question is of course how common common names really are. They can really only apply to the audience of a few countries where folks happen to use the same language (an easy decision for the author of a book that is usually written in only one language anyway. But insects do not live only within the borders of those countries (see US and Mexico) and people, especially naturalists tend to travel. Germans certainly do. In Germany the general interest in insects has always been greater and less negatively bent than in the US (my opinion). So over the last 30 years a German name has been assigned to just about every European insect species. Of course total numbers are small compared to the US/Mexico/American complex. But since Germans really do travel, they seem to have German names even for most species they photograph in the US. And the names are clumsy and long because they try to convey at least as much info as the scientific genus-species complex carries. For the birder: Grosser Rennkuckuck? The Roadrunner, who actually is related to Cuckoos. I left Germany before all those interesting names were coined. In each country I stayed in long enough I acquired a new set of hundreds of bird and mammal names (my brain was younger then) and I was very happy that most of the scientific names of insect and plant genera kept their validity. The splitting-off of New World species from Old World species that used to share the same genus name started more recently, and since that comes stepwise I try to keep up. But I still carry a lot of USAmerican Aphodius spp in my mind ....

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