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Name a species

July 2, 2010

Dr George C. McGavin, honorary research associate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, poimted out last week in the UK newspaper the Guardian (article here), that when it comes to conservation, common names count. Latin classification can be cold and clinical – it’s much easier to care about a species that has a romantic and memorable name.

Following this idea, and to mark the International Year for Biodiversity, the Guardian, Natural England and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have teamed up to ask the public to name some of the less well-known and lesser-loved animals and plants that inhabit UK shores. A list can be found here.

It is an original idea to raise awareness about biodiversity loss and the fact that not only cuddly polar bears are endangered by human-induced climate change. Any thoughts welcomed!

Muriel Bonjean

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2010 04:04

    I completely agree with the fact that common name are important for the public so people are able to integrate and appropriate the biodiversity, its species and their importance to our life.

    As for giving the public the opportunity to give a name, I must say that we tried that in FishBase 2 years ago, to name fishes that had seemingly no common name yet.

    The result was not easy to cope with because of various situations: names actually existed already, we just did not know them yet, language issue (English is not the only language in the world), how to make a choice between various names, what are the criteria, filter out hurting names, filter out synonyms and homonyms … in common names, avoid a strict translation of scientific names, and so on.

    We finally gave up, and decided to go first to specialists asking them to coin names first. We will go for the public only in cases where no name is out with a clearer procedure and criteria.

    Maybe it is easier at national level than at global level as we tried.

    Nicolas Bailly

  2. Paul Jepson permalink
    July 14, 2010 13:06

    I agree with Nicolas about the difficulties of asking the public to name species.

    During the 1990s I was involved in projects to publish Indonesian-language bird field guides. This required generating many vernacular names. After much discusion on whether to use local names (where available) we opted instead for a systematic naming approach that geneated names based on phenotype. A maximum of four words were allowed – two for the genera and two for the species.

    This worked well, although it also extended to a renaming process where older vernacular names that incorporated for example a locality or a person where changed. I was never totally happy with this as I felt we lost some of the history of ornithology in Indonesia.

    Paul Jepson

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