Latin names versus scientific names [was: So much for nomenclatural stability]

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Mar 9 21:15:25 CST 2005

> It is a
> nomenclatorial tool by which the evolutionary relationships of
> organisms are communicated among taxonomists.

'Tis a cladist's perspective.  There are still surviving members of the
dying breed of naturalists who see evolutionary relationships as being one
of the most important kinds of information communicated among taxonomists
via scientific nomneclature -- but not the *only* kind of information.

> Family, genus, species, subspecies (or variety).   THAT is _not_ a "name".
> It is a technical scientific identifier differentiating X
> organism from all
> others -- an evolutionary hierarchal short hand.  We use the term "name"
> every day when we refer to this process/product, but this use of "name" is
> an inaccurate type of slang.  My _name_ is Ronald Richard Gatrelle.  My
> latinized _scientific identifier_ is Homo sapiens.

*Please* don't get me started on what is meant by a "scientific
name"....(with a wink to the LC/TCS gang....)

Both are "names". The first one (R.R.G.) is a name applied to an individual
organism and commonly used to refer to that particular individual organism.
The second one (H.s.) is a name applied to an individual organism, but
commonly used to refer to an imprecisely and oft-reinterpreted set of many,
many organisms  -- alive, dead, and yet-to-be-born -- that share some
affinity with the one to which the name is actually applied.

> Yes, there is a big difference.

Agreed - but not because one is a "name", and the other is a "scientific
identifier".  The reason there is a big difference is that one is
consitently applied only to the individual organism that it is attached to,
while the other has a much more ambiguous (and often dynamic) scope of
meaning, in many cases not shared by all observers.

> If it were not for taxonomy, there would be no need for
> nomenclature.  These
> two things are all to often treated like mutually exclusive things.
> Nomenclature is simply the language of taxonomy.  They are insuperable and
> mutually dependant.

Oh, the complexity of conversation that statement only scratches the surface
of! :-)


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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