How do you feel about naming organisms after people?
The general consensus among people I interact with, including those within my profession and also other hobby naturalists, is that taxonomic names containing the name of a person - usually in the epithet - are harder to learn and unhelpful.
In my opinion, the taxonomic name of an organism should reflect some aspect about the organism. A favorite name to exemplify this is Pterocaulon pycnostachyum, which means something like winged stem, dense spike: a fantastic description for the plant! Names like this provide an opportunity for learning about some root word meanings, and it’s fun to tie those meanings to some aspect of the organism. Through that process, it becomes easier to associate the name with the organism, as well.
Naming a plant after a person offers no such value. Sure, you could make an argument that it opens the door for learning about whoever that person is. But frankly, if I’m learning about some organism, I really don’t care to learn about some person. There’s usually no easy way to tie the name to the organism, and I have to do weird mental gymnastics to come up with an association to remember the name.
It’s nice and all that people wish to honor great scientists (or ironically honor not-so-great presidents, or whatever their motivations are), but I worry that naming organisms after people distracts the focus from learning about the organism. It seems blatantly human-centric. After all, shouldn’t it be about the organism, not about us?
I’d love to see some sort of movement to phase out this type of naming. There already exists, in my onion, far too many such names. With myriad taxonomic changes and continued discovery of newly described species, I’m afraid this trend will soon inundate us with human-named organisms.
Is anyone aware of this conversation taking place in mediums where it might lead to some change? Or do you think I’m in the minority here, and such a movement stands no chance? I myself have not read The International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi, and Plants, but I can’t help but wonder if there is ever any hope for some provision that prohibits (or at least strongly dissuades!) naming organisms after people.
Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.
P.S. - Here I’m mostly referring to the names of plants and my experiences teaching and discussing plants with other like-minded individuals, as I’m mostly a botanist, but I think this topic applies for most groups of organisms.
Edit: moved this from General as I suppose it’s not really iNaturalist specific.