A rant about common names #1

I do not like common names, I feel they are disrespectful. If you are going

Dectes texanus LeConte

Dectes texanus LeConte

to use common names, at least make them good names. Choose an aspect of the species character, give it a worthy name. I pointed out recently that the common names chosen for bumble bees were silly because the specific epithets of many of the scientific names were named after people and that was just carried on to the common names. That is why the easy to pronounce (and spell) Vosnesensky’s Bumble Bee is an official common name.

The Entomological Society of America has a common names committee, with the idea that common names that are arrived at through a reviewed and standardized process will be utilized and make insects more accessible to everyone. However, they chosen one of the stupidest names I can think of for a super cool insect. Dectes texanus is now the Dectes Stemborer! Dectes texanus is a stem boring insect, like most members of the family Cerambycidae (and members of numerous other families) – the term stem borer is useless for identifying the insect. The term Dectes is likewise useless as there are three species in the genus, all of which are stem borers. They might as well have called it the grey beetle. Dectes texanus isn’t even hard to say, the common name even starts with the generic epithet. Dectes means prick in Latin, referring to the thoracic spines of the insect. If the name were based on a translation of the scientific name (as many common names are) it could have been the Texas Prick – a fitting name for a crop pest.

Scientific names are not popular with the masses. I guess they feel like calling your friends by their first and last names, subspecies by first, middle, and last when you really just want to call them ‘Buddy’. The problem is that ‘Buddy’ slowly morphs to ‘Bud’ as one moves west eventually becoming ‘Dude’ in California, as one moves toward the Gulf of Mexico ‘Buddy’ changes to ‘Bub’ and ultimately ‘Bubba’. Our French speaking friends the: Acadians, Cajuns, Creole, and Quebecois all have different names for ‘Buddy’. As do all of our Hispanic friends. This is one of the reasons that Linnaeus came up with Systema Naturae and the scientific nomenclature back in the 1700’s.The scientific names are not in any language, so they are in all languages.

But hey, we are Americans – we like our arcane system of measurement and we like calling things ‘Buddy’. A rose by any other name… adds to your confusion when I try to communicate to you the results of my sniffing. It isn’t that hard.

2 thoughts on “A rant about common names #1

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