Pronunciation of scientific names

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at TFM.FMNH.ORG
Thu Jul 18 13:12:00 CDT 1996

As an aside to the scientific vs. vernacular thread, allusions have been
made to the alleged difficulty of pronouncing scientific names.  A couple

Each day, the Museum's "Life Over Time" exhibit is thronged by children
as young as pre-school age, gleefully shouting things like, "Mommy, look!
An Apatosaurus!" or "Oooh!  Tyrannosaurus rex!"

I have never in my life met a gardener (or non-gardener, for that matter)
who was intimidated by "begonia", "chrysanthemum", "geranium", "cosmos",
"Dahlia", etc., or who failed to pronounce them more-or-less correctly.

In my experience, scientific names coined from Latin roots are not that
difficult for most speakers of Romance and Teutonic languages to pronounce
in an understandable fashion.  Those derived from Greek roots are perhaps
a little harder for the layman, a little more intimidating.  Many of
the really "frightening" epithets are those coined from other languages
and forced to behave as though they were Latin.  To this day, I have
absolutely no idea of the correct pronunciation for Paeonia mlokosewitschii
Lomak. (Angiospermae, Paeoniaceae), and greatly prefer its common name,

Two points to consider from this: (1) perhaps those of us actively
engaged in "naming things by their right names" (i.e., describing taxa
new to science) should consider using what the the late W. C. Fields
would call "euphonious appellations" (names easy to pronounce); (2)
perhaps we should not sell our young students short on their ability
to use scientific names.  I haven't met a six-year-old yet who ever
pointed to a mounted skeleton and called it ol' Three-Horn Face instead
of Triceratops.  Perhaps if children grow up with Quercus and Acer and
Poa and Rosa, those names will seem as friendly as Brachiosaurus,
Velociraptor, and Seismosaurus.

Thomas G. Lammers               lammers at
Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago IL 60605-2496 USA

"... and the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air
and brought them unto Adam, to see what he would call them, and whatsoever
Adam called evey living creature, that was the name thereof."  (Genesis 2:19)

-- taxonomy is REALLY the world's oldest profession!

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