Value of 'naming'

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Jul 12 20:41:48 CDT 1996

> Date: Fri, 12 Jul 1996 15:50:08 -0700
> From: Carmine Colacino <colacino at>

> Of what kind of "common standardized names" are you talking about?
> How can it be possible to have any "standardization" of so many
> different names in so many different languages? And for what use?

Before we get too hung up on arguing what the value of "standardized"
common names might be, let's agree that "standardized" (and the word
was put into quotes to imply that it) only means some organization of
some (perhaps self-serving) repute, e.g., a professional society [Ent
Soc Amer] or other interest group [Amer Bird. Assoc] has taken it upon
itself to create a "standardized" list of common/scientific names.
Usually, it is done in the name of facilitating communication in a
particular natural (common) language while at the same time assuring
that anyone can determine which organism (taxon) is being referred to
(of course, as taxa are moved from one group to another, or their names
amended for whatever reasons, this "standard" mapping itself needs to
be adjusted accordingly).

You can argue with these organizations' "right" to create such lists,
or with the utility of doing so, but nonetheless that's generally what
the word "standardized" refers to in this context.

> If the aim is to teach a class to young children about nature why don't
> just use the local "common" names?

Depends on where one is teaching, among many other things. For example,
how "local" is local? In many areas of the world, one needn't go too
far to encounter second and third "common" names for an organism. If
children come together, in class, from these several local areas,
they'll each have the experience of their respective "common" names to
deal with. In addition, even within a single "local" area, children
and/or their parents very possibly can be immigrants into the area from
another (possibly nearby) area.  Within this one area, then, several
common names might be in use for a particular taxon (or referred to a
similar taxon to one known back in the migrant's home ground). So, it's
not quite so simple to use _the_ local common name. Resorting to _the_
scientific name may appear to be the solution to this polyglot, but
that's arguable (as we're doing).

> Do we really need another "standardization" of names (with a very
> limited "universal" value) besides "scientific" ones?

Mapping common names to their possible scientific ones (making lists)
is probably extremely useful in contributing to communications. Attempting
to control peoples' vernacular is probably going to be unproductive.

> I do not think so, and I do not see the improvement on the existing
> system, one set of (internationally used) names is just enough, I
> believe.

Almost every person on earth knows some common name for an organism of
social importance to that person's community/experience. Almost every
person on earth does not know the scientific names for those

In addition, people are not always (or even often?) inclined,
nor need, to refer discriminately to organisms that scientists place
into different taxa. It is often sufficient, socially, for them to
have their own "generic" epithet for a collection of taxa, which may
or may not correspond one to one with any scientific grouping.

Why, for example, should one refer to an _Xus_ _yus_ immature female,
when perhaps a one-word common name has been in traditional use and
will suffice, ? (That's NOT asking the same question as "why should one
be taught that this organism is an immature female of a scientifically
recognized taxon called Xus yus", by the way; there are lots of good
reasons to teach that information.)

Or, maybe common names are "good" to retain because children's cultural
(including environmental) heritages shouldn't be trashed? Even
"standardized" common names tend to do that.

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