naming and types

Sat Nov 9 05:57:32 CST 1996

I have two comments concerning the recent discussions on naming.

1) I am appalled by the thought of naming a species after oneself,
including the thought of pretending not to have done so by saying
you have named it after your father. Indeed, I find the whole
practice of biologists naming species after each other rather
arrogant. Quercus gambelii has existed for untold millenia and
was used by thousands of Native Americans long before Euro-Americans
ever came to the Southwest. However, since Gambel was the first
person ever to press a branch between newspapers, it is known
forever as his tree. A few years ago, a colleague [highly respected
by everyone including me] called to inform me he had decided to
name a plant after me. I had collected the holotype. It took me
ten minutes on the telephone to convince him not to do so. It
was almost to the point of "I'm going to honor you whether you want
me to or not!" Pity the poor plant with the epithet "laferrierei."

2) Concerning the importance of types even in this age of
molecular systematics, I think it is important to remember that
names have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with
the human need to categorize nature. It is cumbersome, for example
to say "endothermic, fur-bearing, lactating organism," so we use
the word "mammal" to make our sentences shorter. The same is true
at the species level. Genera and species have their historical
origins in European folk taxonomy, and were well-established
concepts long before Darwin or even Linnaeus. Molecular and
other modern techniques can be very useful in helping us understand
the interrelationships between various populations and help
us decide where to draw the boundaries between taxa. But if we
decide we need to continue using names (as we must for practical
reasons), then we need rules. The type system is the best system
yet devised. I oppose the idea of assigning separate names to two
populations based solely on molecular data with no correlating
morphological data at all. I don't care whether the two are
genetically compatible or not. If you can't tell the difference
without sophisticated techniques, only a specialist in that
particular group would want to hear about it.

If anyone is interesting in purchasing pins to stick into his/her
Joe Laferriere voodoo doll, I will be happy to sell some at $1 each.

Joseph E. Laferriere
Tucson, Arizona, USA
JosephL at

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