Naming Species and objections around it

Table of Contents

In recent years, the field of taxonomy, the science of naming and classifying all living beings, has been witnessing a raging debate — whether species with objectionable scientific names should be renamed.
About the issue:
  • Some of the species have names largely taken from problematic people, such as those linked to slavery and racism, or are linked to derogatory terms and racial slurs.
  • Moreover, many want to entirely do away with the practice of naming animals and plants after a person.
Species with disputed names:
  • The best known example of such a living being is Anophthalmus hitleri. Named after the Adolf Hitler of a rare blind beetle, popularly known as the ‘Hitler beetle’, was discovered in 1933 and found in only around 15 caves in central Slovenia.
  • Hottentotta tamulus scorpion — “colonialists in the 17th century used “Hottentot” as a derogatory term for Indigenous Black people in Africa.
  • Rauvolfia caffra, commonly known as the quinine tree, which gets its moniker from another offensive term regarded as hate speech against Black communities in South Africa.
How species are named?
  • Every species of animal or plant has two scientific names.
  • The first name; denotes the genus to which the species belongs. It is a generic name and is always capitalised.
  • The second name; identifies the species within the genus and is never capitalised. Both names are italicised.
  • The names are usually of Latin or Greek origin.
  • Organisms are also named after people who discover them. They are also sometimes named in honour of somebody.
Who makes the rules regarding giving scientific names to organisms?
  • The nomenclature codes are governed by international bodies such as the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) which governs the naming of animals, the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICNafp) that sees the naming of plants (including cyanobacteria).
  • The International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ICNB) governs the naming of bacteria (including Archaea) and the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) that governs virus names.
Procedure to change the name:
  • The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) in its rulebook says, “The only proper reasons for changing a name are either a more profound knowledge of the facts resulting from adequate taxonomic study or the necessity of giving up a nomenclature that is contrary to the rules.”

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