Common names and teaching

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Jul 17 23:03:15 CDT 1996

> Date:         Wed, 17 Jul 1996 08:15:00 CDT
> From: "Thomas G. Lammers" <lammers at TFM.FMNH.ORG>
> I have several times taught a "local flora" class, aimed at undergrad
> non-science majors, which had a dual emphasis: (1) field recognition of
> major angiosperm families (grasses, legumes, comps, etc.), and (2) field
> recognition of locally common/conspicuous/important species.

With just those two goals in mind, perhaps the teaching of scientific
names is adequate (but see below).

> In the latter
> case, I would always tell students both the binomial and any common names
> I was aware of, both widespread and local.  However, on lab practical exams,
> I never asked for common names, only binomials.  Students queried this, and
> I replied that, given the nature of common names, I could NEVER say their
> answer was wrong.
> ...  By their very nature as part of spoken
> vernacular, common names are extremely slippery.  Worth mentioning,
> as a lesson in the value of scientific names if nothing else, and to
> highlight plants' relationship to human culture, but not anything I want
> to include on an examination.

You might not wish to ask and argue about the legitimacy of putting any
particular vernacular name onto any particular specimen/species.  I can
see the difficulty you highlight. But, how about asking on the tests
questions that probe the very things you suggest are "worth mentioning"
above --the value of scientific names, the relationship of vernacular
names to human culture? E.g., What is the value of retaining use of
vernacular names for floral/faunistic elements of the landscape? What
problems would you expect to encounter in a biodiversity study if you
were restricted to vernacular names?  What problems would be expect to
encounter in an anthropological study if you ignored vernacular names
in use? Etc., etc. (admittedly, above your course is about learning
some representative plants, and not about the why's of naming, nor
about the anthropology of environmental awareness, but it might make
the "relevance" of the course more palpable if they _were_ part of it.)

>         "The naming of things by their right name is the beginning
>           of wisdom."

And, trying to determine what makes names "right", and is there _a_
right name, is the pursuit of wisdom in greater depth.


More information about the Taxacom mailing list