Article in Discover magazine

Robin Leech releech at TELUSPLANET.NET
Wed Mar 16 08:56:58 CST 2005

The Yewessians handle the homonyms in two ways that I
have observed (but there may be more):
1.  Tom Jones I; Tom Jones II, Tom Jones III; etc., and
2.  Tom Jones Sr; Tom Jones Jr.

I have often wondered in the Sr/Jr situation if a man who is
Presently Tom Jones Jr becomes Tom Jones Sr when his
father dies, or when he who has been called Tom Jones Jr
for all these years has a son (has his father, Tom Jones Sr,
died yet?), does he now call himself Tom Jones Sr
and his son Tom Jones Jr?  If the latter, it would mean that
we have, as Don points out, two homonyms, both of whom
are called Tom Jones Sr.  Or is it Tom Jones Jr?

Perhaps there is a Tom Jones The Elder, Tom Jones Sr, and Tom
Jones Jr?  What happens if there are 4 generations, or even 5,
surviving whose name is Tom Jones.  Perhaps they all die young
so the problem doesn't exist?  Or, mebbe they all have different
middle names?  I suggest they "get out more often" to see the
rest of the world.  Are there other solutions?

Robin, with my binomen for clarity, Leech

I saw that someone suggested the monomial RobinLeech, in an
attempt to defeat the binomial system.  Is that like Canislupus or
Muscadomestica?  I hope it was done with tongue in cheek.

----- Original Message -----
From: <Don.Colless at>
To: <releech at TELUSPLANET.NET>
Cc: <taxacom at>
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 7:58 PM
Subject: RE: Re: Article in Discover magazine

The Kayan people of Sarawak have what must be the simplest binomial system
anywhere. First name is a personal name; second is father's name; and there
are only 7 or 8 (usual) single names. That is, there are only some 50 or so
binomials available. In a "house" of 200 or so folk, avoiding homonyms
becomes an art. Judicious naming by parents can help; also going outside the
system with some thought-up name, but that is (or was in the 1950's) frowned
upon. As a last resort, Wan Anyi could escape accidentally, say, by becoming
a widower, and thereupon becoming Aban Wan (the widower Wan); or (more
easily) by having a son named, say, Jok, whereupon he became Taman Jok
(father of Jok). There were other escape routes that I now forget.

So, as Robin points out, we can't do without binomials! Although homonyms do
occur. I had a cousin of the same name, which caused occasional confusions.

-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom Discussion List on behalf of Robin Leech
Sent: Tue 3/15/2005 3:28 AM
Subject:      Re: Article in Discover magazine
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

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
time became Hanson.

Now I have a father (Hans) and his son (Hanson) clearly distinguished for
and for others.  As I run into more Hanses, I now have Hans (von or from)
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
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
    them arising everywhere, and of them being so important for

  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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