Saturday, February 14, 2009

Name that tuna

In order to get things back on track, and to stop veering off into a world of rants and spoof fiction, today I am simply going to blog about names. Not human names though, because commenting on the current fashion of naming your child by randomly stabbing pins into words in magazines is starting to wear thin. I presume that's how it's done anyway. Certainly explains why there are fewer Janets and Peters, and more Marabaya-Chantelles, Rygon-Mullets and Fantavia-Savingsaccounts doing the rounds.

Where was I? Oh yes, names. I was thinking about animals in particular, and I concluded that it doesn't half help when picturing them if they are given a name that is very descriptive, although it does risk being a bit boring. You can be pretty sure the Whale Shark is going to be fairly sizable, and the fact that it's a shark makes it exciting. The Proboscis Monkey is probably not going to have a tiny schnoz and being a monkey is cool, and the giant soft-shelled turtle . . . well, take a guess. Of course, a house mouse is a mouse that lives in a house. Even it's scientific name Mus domesticus means . . .er . . . house mouse. It's not exciting but there you go.

In the old days, adventurous biologists (who were as apt to shoot new species as study them) would have free reign as to what they might call any new animal they came across, and they could use local lingo (e.g. Kangaroo; Macaw), their own highly educated minds (e.g. Hyrax, Ceolacanth) or just randomly choose something daft to see if it would stick (e.g. Aye-aye, Frog).

Biologists are probably running fairly low on original names nowadays, so I expect it's unlikely that there'll be anything as esoteric as a Salamander or Narwhal announced to National Geographic in the near future.

No, all that's left are subdivisions of animals that we already know about, so naming them is less down to imagination or classical education, and more to do with what you're actually looking at. A seahorse from the south pacific, for instance, is likely to be named a South Pacific Seahorse.

Marine biologists are especially good at this, because they're discovering new species all the time, what with us having only explored a fraction of the oceans. They have to be pretty realistic, and a good example of this can be found in aquariums. Or is that aquaria? I was at the Birmingham Sealife Centre just the other day and saw these two signs for denizens of the same tank:

A starfish with all red knobs on it, and a little fish, shaped like a box, that was yellow. Twenty seconds thought by Jacques Costeau's descendants and job done. Simple as that.

Of course some were more cryptic. Take this fishy critter for instance:

I can just imagine the thought process that went into this nomenclature.
"Hey, Jacques, what shall we call this thing with the big eye?"
"Er . . . hang on . . . I'm having an idea . . ."

This makes me sound like a bit of a curmudgeon, but I'm not really having a go at animal names. For every dull name there is a corker. You have the Common Crab versus the Sally Lightfoot Crab, the Pigeon versus the Magnificent Bird of Paradise or the Brown Rat versus the Naked Mole Rat.

My current favourite name of a bird, apart from the obvious and brilliantly named Blue-Footed Booby, is one I saw at the same place as the Wandering Whistling Duck, and it's this:

It's called a Crested Screamer.

Now that's a cool name, and it's descriptive.


  1. When I was no more than knee high to a two story building, the people across the scheme from us had a cat. It was from Yugoslavia, and only had one ear, strange markings, and a long tail.

    When I asked the oul fella what sort of a cat was it that he had, he replied: "Its a greedy fucking shite with my foot up it's arse when I get it."

    Now I cannae be sure, but I think it's a long enough name to be latin.

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  3. Nicely written post :)

    My mother took in a stray cat called "Come On" cos thats what it ended up responding to. I had another cat called Deadbeat becasuse thats what he was when we found.

  4. Jimmy, not sure which bit is the genus and which bit the species in that name, I shall ask a biologist.

    Thank you Logistician. Always nice to know someone likes me blatherings.

    Dr Zibbs, who isn't?

    DaveB, thank you. My brother has a cat called Phil, as he just seems to buy food to fill it.


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