And what is in a name?

Ron at Ron at
Sat Jul 14 04:33:02 CDT 2001

Anne Kilmer wrote
>  ...with the mutability of scientific names, at the mercy
> of lumpers and splitters...

Mutable: "given to changing, or constantly changing."
Immutable: "unchanging, unalterable, changeless."

There is a big difference between knowing enough to be a good editor and
being creative enough to be a good author, being able to write a song but
not sing it, conduct the music but not play or create it.  I have written
hundreds of articles and several booklets - all non leps (including a local
weekly newspaper column for two years, which I quit because it was too much
work). My editors always love my material and punchy style but hate my
grammar, punctuation, spelling.  I needed them, they made me look literate.

Some of the dumbest people I know have a lot of knowledge or can spell real
good. Knowledge, wisdom, insight, understanding - different animals.
Knowledge is cheep - its a dime a dozen. Wisdom is rare - it can't be
faked.  Insight is what makes great councilors great - others don't like
what it sees in them.  To understand - is to have arrived.

To let Anne's statements (made in her usual cutesy but sarcastic way) slide
by is to give everyone else the impression that I have bowed my head, been
put in my place, and acquiesced to the higher power.  She is very wrong and
does not have the faintest idea what she is talking about when it comes to
"scientific names" and how they function. She does not understand.

Anyone who does not own a copy of The International Code of Zoological
Nomenclature (ICZN) Vol. 4 should not even be opening their mouth about
taxonomy. Even many who do have a copy don't _understand_  how it works.
Taxonomists are not free to do what ever they want. The International Code
of Zoological Nomenclature is structured to bring immutability to organic
defination and communication. Popular butterfly authors often
work outside these rules and have screwed things up quite a bit.

Gochfeld also posted recently that, " Ron, we've been down the name line
often before. A scientific name is NO MORE OR LESS correct [than a common
name] and certainly no more stable over time than any other name which
people bestow on what they think they understand as what may be a species
(or other level taxon)."

To this I say that we obviously have not been down it far enough or long
enough because people still just don't it - understand.

At this point I do not even know if it is worth going into it. I have sat
on this post for awhile wondering if I should even post this much. Then
there is issue of space on a list like this.

I have a question line for the people who want to discuss taxonomy and its
nomenclatorial procedures. Do you own a copy of the ICZN (bible), have you
read it, do you understand it, have you ever or do you work with it, is it
a familiar every day tool to you? If not you are like a guy off the street
putting on boxing gloves and getting in ring with Mike Tyson. A person with
no license getting behind the wheel of a car. There are many
entomology professors who don't know about _doing_ taxonomy.

An organism is discoverd. It is then scientifically identified by a term
that is based on Latin OR Greek OR a combiantion of both - or neither (e.g.
an American Indian name left as is - cullasaja).

When the science of systematic nomenclature was introduced it was so
primative then that confusion was a common occurance. Many original
descriptions were very brief and not accompanied by even a cartoonist
painting - we were like babies learning to walk. Many of these are also so
rare and obscure that some later workers did not even know they existed or
if so, where to find them. But the system was brilliant.

Our example will be Papilio ajax.  After its coining it was found that when
the word ajax was applied (in 1758) that several different butterflies
were unknowingly included under this epithet.  Eventually no one could tell
to which it actually was affixed!
Arguments over ajax ensued. Finally, it was wisely decided that we could
never know to which organism that term was meant to apply. The scientific
community went to court so to speak and ruled that rather than apply ajax
improperly, ajax was banned in regard to several species of swallowtails
involved - glaucus, marcellus, asterius, troilus.  So how were these "ajax"
to now be known?  What NEW names were given to these?  NONE.
1) It was never known in the first place what "ajax" was referring
to so technically NO SINGLE butterfly was ever named this.
 2) A new name was not sought. Rather an OLD name. Taxonomic names very
rarely move FORWARD. If something is found defective -
a nomen nudum, nomen dubium - the taxonomist MUST make a search for the
oldest available name and he AND ALL OTHERS MUST use that one valid name.
(There are exceptions and the new edition strongly leans to preserving
names held in long usage. This is a very complicated and legalistic process
that I am nutshelling.)

That is the immutable goal of the system - find the oldest and stick with
it forever. What ever the oldest available and valid word-term for a
subspecies/species that is its name forever. Sometimes we are still finding
that occasionally a name WE have been using (say turnus 1771), is the NEW
name and that we  should have been using the OLDER name (here glaucus) as
THAT is the correct name by the Code. Glaucus is The immutable epithet -
which is why we HAD to RETURN to it.  Nothing changed - popular
workers had just screwed up by using the incorrect name - turnus.

This is like a child born and being given to the wrong parent at birth.
The child was born a Smith - but (because of human error) its first
10 years was spent as a Jones. When the mistake was realized the
child was given to its proper parents and is now know correctly
as Smith. The friends who only knew it as Jones would (ignorantly)
say, Oh you have a NEW name. The child would say, no I have found
my OLD and REAL name. They of course, would not _understand_
because of what they did not know. Some might still want to,
and would,  call him/her Jones.

This applies to genus names often. All butterflies were once just genus
Papilio. Eventually we saw that was wrong. Wrong how?  Because evolution
had not made them all Papilio. The taxonomist could call them a "term" he
chose (within the rules) but HAD to categorize them in groups as
God and evolution made them.  This gave rise to hairstreaks becoming
Thecla rather then Papilio. This lumping was found incorrect also.
Now, there are still Thecla but only the ones evolutionally related to
the FIRST taxon in that genus to which the genus label Thecla was
affixed. Thecla, like Papilio, is the immutable epithet for their
genera. When new genera are discovered (uncovered) the proper evolutionary
units MUST be placed in (moved to) them. When a species is transferred to
another genus it is simply the scientifically demanded aligning of
nomenclature with what nature has made - the original parent.

I'll quit here. There is nothing capricious about scientific terms (unlike
common names).  What the lay person sees as random mutable name changes are
not such at all. They are REQUIRED adjustment to bring the system to its
immutalble conslusion (for this time and space).  The name appalachia
affixed to that organism in the southern US we commonly call the
Appalachian Brown will never change ever - it can't be. It is immutable as
that is the only and oldest scientific term available to it. The common
name can, and likely will, be changed many times in the next thousand
years. But not appalachia. It will stay in Satyroides too and can only be
MOVED (not "renamed") to a different genus if the evolutionary evidence
says that is where it belongs.

Bottom line. 1) Species/subspecies level. A newly discovered animal is
given a new name - within very strict parameters of the ICZN naming
process.  This is (basically) the only time we get "new" names. A named
animal that we have known as xus for twenty years suddenly appears as wus
in the popular literature - the uneducated see this as a new name. It is
not - it is a return to an older name - the original immutable one.  2) A
transfer of organisms into a new or another genus (or species due to a
change in rank to subspecies) occurs through new evolutionary
understanding. This is not always agreed upon by all "experts" and so more
than one alignment may be found. However, the original epithet given to the
individual organism stays the same as it is immutable. In time all the
adjustments (from finding and adopting the original immutable epithets or
from understanding the true evolutionary relationships) will provide an
everlasting unchanging nomenclature. Scientific IDs (commonly called names)
are the only correct class of labels for animals, plants, and minerals.
Common names aren't.  Au   is and will be the correct "name" for what that
element is no matter what it is called in any language (in English, Gold).
Antiopa is the correct term for the animal no matter what it is called in
any language.

Ron Gatrelle,
taxonomist, zoologist, ordained minister, certified prosthetic dental
author, speaker, teacher. I get paid to do all of these.

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