The Art of Naming

The Art of Naming

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Overview

From Tyrannosaurus rex to Heteropoda davidbowie: scientific naming as a joyful and creative act.

Tyrannosaurus rex. Homo sapiens. Heteropoda davidbowie. Behind each act of scientific naming is a story. In this entertaining and illuminating book, Michael Ohl considers scientific naming as a joyful and creative act. There are about 1.8 million discovered and named plant and animal species, and millions more still to be discovered. Naming is the necessary next step after discovery; it is through the naming of species that we perceive and understand nature. Ohl explains the process, with examples, anecdotes, and a wildly varied cast of characters. He describes the rules for scientific naming; the vernacular isn't adequate. These rules—in standard binomial nomenclature, the generic name followed by specific name—go back to Linnaeus; but they are open to idiosyncrasy and individual expression. A lizard is designated Barbaturex morrisoni (in honor of the Doors' Jim Morrison, the Lizard King); a member of the horsefly family Scaptia beyonceae. Ohl, a specialist in “winged things that sting,” confesses that among the many wasp species he has named is Ampulex dementor, after the dementors in the Harry Potter novels. Scientific names have also been deployed by scientists to insult other scientists, to make political statements, and as expressions of romantic love: “I shall name this beetle after my beloved wife.”

The Art of Naming takes us on a surprising and fascinating journey, in the footsteps of the discoverers of species and the authors of names, into the nooks and crannies and drawers and cabinets of museums, and through the natural world of named and not-yet-named species.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262037761
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 03/30/2018
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Michael Ohl is a biologist at the Natural History Museum of Berlin and an Associate Professor at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Beauty of Names vii

Acknowledgments xi

Note on the Images xv

1 Hitler and the Fledermaus 1

2 How Species Get Their Names 37

3 Words, Proper Names, Individuals 73

4 Types and the Materiality of Names 97

5 The Curio Collection of Animal Names 129

6 "I Shall Name This Beetle After My Beloved Wife …" 151

7 "A New Species a Day" 183

8 Who Counts the Species, Names the Names? 211

9 Naming Nothing 243

Epilogue: On Labeling 273

Notes 275

References 281

Index of Author Names 293

What People are Saying About This

Deborah Blum

If you've ever wondered what's in a name—and haven't we all?—then The Art of Naming is the book for you. Smart, funny, packed with tales of scientific feuds, enraged politicians, outsized adventure, and egos, Michael Ohl reminds us that in the wonder of name lies the wonder of life on Earth itself.

Quentin Wheeler

In The Art of Naming, Michael Ohl takes the reader behind the scenes with biodiversity explorers to reveal the fascinating and surprisingly human practice of naming species. An engaging storyteller, Ohl draws upon authoritative knowledge and unexpected historical tales to bring to life, with clarity and wit, this little-known corner of science. As millions of species face the threat of extinction, there is no better time to celebrate the diverse kinds of life on Earth and the sources of the names by which we know them.

Justin Schmidt

Michael Ohl brings to life the scientific process of naming animals, and the fascinating people who name them, through a superb combination of storytelling and rigorous factual presentation. The Art of Naming is delightful.

Endorsement

Michael Ohl brings to life the scientific process of naming animals, and the fascinating people who name them, through a superb combination of storytelling and rigorous factual presentation. The Art of Naming is delightful.

Justin Schmidt, Southwestern Biological Institute & Department of Entomology, University of Arizona; author of The Sting of the Wild

From the Publisher

The Art of Naming is not just for biologists who might be revisiting, or discovering, the origins of animal names. It is also for historians of modern science, for linguists, for anthropologists, for any curious readers ready to be impressed by the human urge to classify and its attendant foibles and vanities.

Vaclav Smil, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba; author of Growth and Energy and Civilization

If you've ever wondered what's in a name—and haven't we all?—then The Art of Naming is the book for you. Smart, funny, packed with tales of scientific feuds, enraged politicians, outsized adventure, and egos, Michael Ohl reminds us that in the wonder of name lies the wonder of life on Earth itself.

Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner; author of The Poisoner's Handbook

Michael Ohl's brilliant book shows that although systematic biologists are sometimes said to be crazy, it's the other way around; taxonomy is a psychoactive science that prevents madness.

Fredrik Sjöberg, author of The Fly Trap

In The Art of Naming, Michael Ohl takes the reader behind the scenes with biodiversity explorers to reveal the fascinating and surprisingly human practice of naming species. An engaging storyteller, Ohl draws upon authoritative knowledge and unexpected historical tales to bring to life, with clarity and wit, this little-known corner of science. As millions of species face the threat of extinction, there is no better time to celebrate the diverse kinds of life on Earth and the sources of the names by which we know them.

Quentin Wheeler, President of ESF, New York's global environmental college; author of What on Earth?

Michael Ohl brings to life the scientific process of naming animals, and the fascinating people who name them, through a superb combination of storytelling and rigorous factual presentation. The Art of Naming is delightful.

Justin Schmidt, Southwestern Biological Institute & Department of Entomology, University of Arizona; author of The Sting of the Wild

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