Article in Discover magazine

Robin Leech releech at TELUSPLANET.NET
Mon Mar 14 09:28:51 CST 2005

Hi Thomas Lammers,

I believe it is to do with numbers, as you so well pointed out.  

When there were few people, for example, second names were not needed.
I could know you as Tom, others as Ken, Henry, Hans, Dieter, Ian or whatever.

But, as populations grew, I might come to know of 2 Kens, 3 Toms, 4 Hanses,
etc., so now I need either to modify the monomial into say Hans's son, which in
time became Hanson.

Now I have a father (Hans) and his son (Hanson) clearly distinguished for myself, 
and for others.  As I run into more Hanses, I now have Hans (von or from) Graustein, 
or Hans (von or from) Mainz.

So Hans von Graustein's children are Friederich von Graustein and his
brother Heinrich von Graustein, and sister Hilda von Graustein.  It is easy to
shorten this to Friederich Graustein and Hilda Graustein.  So now we have
a binomial name system for humans.

In schools or in our jobs, if there are two Henry's, we have to say, Henry
Jones sold me this watch, or Henry Smith sold me this watch.

Thus, once we have more than a few of everything or anything, we need at
minimum a binomial system, or even a trinomial system.

Robin Leech (I am poor and infamous; Robin Leach is rich and famous). 

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Thomas G. Lammers 
  Sent: Monday, March 14, 2005 8:55 AM
  Subject: Re: Article in Discover magazine

  At 09:38 AM 3/14/2005, Robin Leech wrote:

    Even people have binomens for themselves, be it Ken Kinman, Joshua Foer,
    Ernst Mayr, Robin Leech or even Robin Leach.  There must be a reason I
    don't know Ken Kinman as only Ken or Kinman.  Do you suppose that by
    his binomen I know exactly who he is?
    Or Good ol' Ernst!  Ernst?  Ernst who?

    And our vehicles are known as Subaru Outback and Ford Galaxie.  Perhaps
    we had better explore the reason for these binomens and the wherefores of
    them arising everywhere, and of them being so important for communication.

  It must be rooted very deeply in the basics of language, as it is also reflected in our pattern of substantives and modifiers (nouns and adjectives).  Most every language, to the best of my knowledge, makes abundant use of modifiers to more accurately indicate features or attributes of a substantive.

  There probably is some good mathematical reason for binomens as well, reflecting the maximum possible number of euphonious and pronounceable names that can be generated efficiently from a language with a given number of phonemes.  But math is not my long suit, so I shan't speculate in that 

  Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.

  Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
  Department of Biology and Microbiology
  University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
  Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA

  e-mail:       lammers at
  phone:      920-424-1002
  fax:           920-424-1101

  Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and biogeography of the Campanulaceae s. lat.

  "Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
                                                                -- Anonymous

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