Value of 'naming'

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Jul 18 10:30:29 CDT 1996

> Date:         Thu, 18 Jul 1996 09:46:08 -0600
> From: Jorge Soberon Mainero <jsoberon at MIRANDA.ECOLOGIA.UNAM.MX>

Jorge said:
> Friends, I dont really know what is all this discussion about.

and then goes on to give a number of good examples of exactly what the
discussion is about (thanks, Jorge, even if that wasn't your intent).

To remember how this discussion came up... Someone asked, paraphrased,
"What do I teach my students, with regards to names of organisms?"

Some people have replied "Teach them the scientific nomenclature. That's
what's important."

Others of us have argued that there is more (to be taught) in a
youngster's life than the scientific name of an organism, and that
it is not appropriate to teach naming/names as if only one name were
Truth (even in a biology class, some of us would argue).

So, I don't think anyone is failing to recognize that the scientific
system of nomenclature is a good "standard" for universal communication
about a particular beast. I don't think anyone is failing to recognize
that "common" or "vernacular" names are in common use and have certain
failings when it comes to universal understanding (about a particular
organism). What does seem to be a legitimate and serious bone of
contention is whether or not both (or all three [scientific, "standardized"
common, and vernacular]) systems of naming deserve to be discussed
in the (biology) classroom of youngsters.

(Side bar: This is _not_ like the argument about creationism/evolution
(PLEASE!) -- equal time for all sides. No one is arguing that commonly
used names don't really exist, or are used by only some misinformed
minority of the world. They exist. They're used by people of all

> So, being practical, I stick to latin names when I want to be understood
> by colleagues, including students, accept as a fact of life that to talk
> with bird watchers I  have to multiply the effort  by a factor of two or
> more, and learn (and rather soon forget) the local names that exist for other
> things, mainly plants.

If you were a grammar/high school biology teacher, would you spend any
time teaching your students about the diversity of human culture and
the variety of systems of naming things and variety of names for things?
Or, would you encourage students (by omission or commision, doesn't
matter) to forget those "variable and unscientific" systems.
(Given your examples and other comments, I suspect strongly that you'd
opt for the former.) That's what this discussion is about (for me).

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