Value of 'naming'

Tom Moritz tmoritz at CAS.CALACADEMY.ORG
Mon Jul 15 11:19:09 CDT 1996

Robin's message suggests the distinction between "common" names (in the
sense of "standardized"/vernacular) and "colloquial" names (the various
names actually used in everyday *speech* by peoples of different regions
or even by peoples of different cultures within the same region to
describe "discrete" organisms).  This general issue has been discussed
previously on TAXACOM. (SEE discussion on the "Common names for trees" in
early June, 1995.)

The practice of designating any set of names as "standard" runs the risk of
chauvinism -- moreover failure to respect established "colloquial" names may
be a barrier to involving local and indigenous peoples in effective
conservation.  Implicit in this problem is the dilemma of confusing (or
concatenating) different species (but then again we're faced with another
set of problems -- as evidenced in a separate but concurrent thread on Taxacom
-- "Exactly what is a species"/"Species concepts")

The FAO's "Species identification sheets for fishery purposes" are an
example of a practical identification guide which has tried to include
a variety of applicable names (both variant scientific names and
polyglot vernacular names) together with keys and othe useful
comparative/descriptive information so that laypeople can have some sort
of common denominator in responding to international regulation.

This may be a case of not trying to make things simpler than they can be
made (Einstein?)...

                Tom Moritz  Academy Librarian
                California Academy of Sciences
                Golden Gate Park
                San Francisco, California  94118
                415-750-7101 -- VOICE
                415-750-7106 -- FAX
                Internet: TMoritz at

On Sun, 14 Jul 1996, Robin Panza wrote:

> Richard Jensen wrote:
> >I don't recall the details, but I seem to remember that the AOU had a set
> >of standardized common names for birds.  I am not proposing that we
> The AOU has standard English-language names for bird of North America.  If the
> same species occurs in England, it may have a different "standard" English-
> language name.  If it also occurs in other European countries, it may also have
> a "standard" French, German, Dutch, Italian, Danish etc. name.  Birds in other
> parts of the world may or may not have any standard name, and that may or may
> not be in English.
> Even standardizing North American species names was quite difficult, as there
> were many people who refused to give up well-loved local names just because the
> AOU wanted to use another.  The AOU and BOU (I think) are trying to come to
> agreement on names for species in both areas, but little progress is being
> made, as each country thinks theirs is the better name.
> And that's with a taxon that includes only 9000 species, most of them
> well-known!
> Robin Panza             panzar at
> Section of Birds
> Carnegie Museum of Natural History
> Pittsburgh  PA  USA  15213

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