[Taxacom] Goddess Changes Sex, or the Gender Game: Polistes dominula

Sean Edwards sean.r.edwards at btinternet.com
Mon Oct 22 11:07:33 CDT 2018

 From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polistes_dominula

"The European paper wasp was originally described in 1791 by Johann 
Ludwig Christ <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Ludwig_Christ> as 
/Vespa dominula/. The specific epithet 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_name_(zoology)> //dominula// is 
a noun meaning "little mistress",^[4] 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polistes_dominula#cite_note-4> and 
following the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature 
species epithets which are nouns do not change when a species is placed 
in a different genus. Authors who were unaware that /dominula/ was a 
noun have misspelled the species name as "dominulus" for decades. 
Another cause of the confusion in the species' name was the ambiguous 
distinction between masculine and feminine genitive nouns.^[5] 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polistes_dominula#cite_note-5> ."

It's remarkable what bryologists chance upon.



Sean Edwards, Thursley, Surrey
email: sean.r.edwards at btinternet.com

On 20/10/2018 16:23, John Grehan wrote:
> In reference to some brief discussion of gender rules in taxonomy I have
> appended below the text from an article on the subject that may be of
> passing interest. First published just over 50 years ago and seems to be
> still relevant today. Any mistyping my responsibility.
> John Grehan
> Goddess Changes Sex, or the Gender Game
> John R. G. Turner
> Systematic Zoology, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 1967), pp. 349-350
> In his recent criticism of the gender rule in zoological nomenclature,
> Moore (1966) discusses the difficulty of deciding on the gender of a genus:
> he does not mention a problem that I have found most teasing – discovering
> whether a specific name is substantive, and therefore invariant, or
> adjectival, and therefore with a variable ending. It may be reasonable to
> expect zoologists to manage  -*us, -a, -um* endings and the more awake ones
> to manage  *-is, -is, -e,* but they can hardly be expected to have an
> extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek adjectives, much less of classical
> mythology. The sneaking pleasure that I, and perhaps others, derive from
> exercising scholastic pedantry, thereby feeling in touch with the great
> stream of Western Culture, hardly compensates for the time spent hunting
> through Latin and Greek dictionaries.
> In working on the evolution of the South American butterfly genus
> *Heliconius* (e.g. Turner, 1965) I have had to sort out some of its very
> tangled systematics and nomenclature. The trouble is that there is a
> tradition going right back to Linnaeus of giving the species the names of
> nymphs and muses (*Heliconius* = dweller on Mount Helicon), so that one has
> a masculine genus with a feminine species; moreover, there was at one time
> a feminine genus *Heliconia*, now in synonymy, with which some of the
> adjectival names agreed. As classical names ran out, systematists named the
> butterflies after their wives, rivers with classical-sounding names, saints
> and opera-heroines; one needs to know not only mythology, but biogeography,
> geography, hagiography, and musicology.
> Understandably, systematists have changed endings that should have
> remained, and unable to master the many names of Venus and all the other
> ladies, have come up with *cytherus, veustus *(“Scandal in temple. Vestal
> Virgins say *We are just good friends*”), *eulalius, egerius, antigonus,
> lucius* and so on. Now these are deliberate emendations, and under the *Code
> *are strictly junior synonyms, to be taken into account in future
> revisions. In addition to these very clear cases, there are some that are
> almost impossible to decide, at least without consulting a classicist. Did
> Linnaeus intend *charitonia*, frequently rendered *charitonius* (from
> *Charites*, the Graces), to be an artificial noun or an adjective, and if
> the latter, why did he not make it agree with its genus (*Papilio* at that
> time)? Did Cramer intend *numata* to be some obscure nymph (an appellation
> of Egeria perhaps, who taught the mythical Numa), or did he just mis-spell
> *nummata* (=wealthy); and again, why did it not agree? (See also Turner,
> 1967.)
> The gender rule not only promotes instability of names which are
> adjectival, it wastes much time in deciding difficult cases, and when a
> hard-worked zoologist does not notice that the name is substantive, results
> in an unnecessary synonym. Surely, the only sensible thing to do is retain
> the original spelling of all names (Barring misprints), even as far as the
> termination.
> John R.G. Turner
> Department of Biology
> University of York,
> York, England
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