The Naming Process of Species

Context: 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.
  • Many want to entirely do away with the practice of naming animals and plants after a person.
Species with problematic names:
  • Anophthalmus hitleri: Named after the former German Führer, Adolf Hitler, this rare blind beetle, popularly known as the Hitler beetle.
  • Uta stansburiana: A small-blotched lizard- the reptile was named after Howard Stansbury, who played a key role in a locally-infamous massacre of Timpanogos Native Americans.
  • The flowering shrub Hibbertia scandens: The plant has the moniker after George Hibbert, a botanist, who was one of the leading members of the pro-slavery and anti-abolition lobby during the late 1700s.
  • 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, it gets its moniker from another offensive term regarded as hate speech against Black communities in South Africa.
How are species given their scientific names?
  • Every species of animal or plant has two scientific names. Both names are italicised.
  • 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.
  • These names are usually of Latin or Greek origin. Oftentimes, species are named based on their distinctive features.
  • Organisms are named after people who discover them. They are also sometimes named in honour of somebody.
Rules regarding giving scientific names to organisms:
  • Although anybody can propose a name for a type of organism they think hasn’t been formally identified by anyone else, there are certain rules, or nomenclature codes, that they have to follow.
  • Validity of a name: A new name is considered to be valid only when it is published in an openly distributed publication, and it must be accompanied by a detailed description of the specimens the author claims are typical for the group.
  • Bodies that govern the nomenclature codes
    1. The International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) which governs the naming of animals,
    2. The International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICNafp) that sees the naming of plants (including cyanobacteria),
    3. The International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ICNB) that governs the naming of bacteria (including Archaea)
    4. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) that governs virus names.
Can a species’ offensive scientific name be changed? As per the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) rulebook: 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.
News Source: Indian Express

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