Thursday, April 30, 2009

Naming Species After Unrelated People

Most common animals have the luxury of being given common names such as "Least Weasel," "Red Fox," "Snowy Owl," or even "Giant Forest Hog." These names are related to how these animals look or where they live, and are thus easy to remember.

Unfortunately, a lot of rare animals discovered by science fairly late are given obscure and irrelevant names like "Przewalski's Horse," "Baird's Beaked Whale," and "Dice's Cottontail." Although it may seem that these animals were named after the scientists who discovered them, this is not the case - most often, they are named after famous people (often biologists) chosen by the discoverers. These names may be meaningful to the biologists who named them, but they aren't very descriptive of the animals that they describe. Even worse, this rather meaningless trend continues as scientists discover new animals and try to select appellations of a similar note.

Luckily, it seems that, at least in some groups, these sorts of names are falling out of favor; at any rate, sometimes we have other options to use when talking about these animals. For example, the Prezewalksi's Horse is sometimes called the "Asian Wild Horse" or "Mongolian Wild Horse;" in older days it was sometimes known as the "True Tarpan" or "Mongolian Tarpan." The Baird's Beaked Whale is sometimes grouped together with the very similar "Arnoux's Beaked Whale" and called the "Giant Beaked Whale." These latter names are much better and more interesting.

On another note, when including such animals in a CRPG (such as Dungeon Craft), these more descriptive common names can be useful, as it would make little or no sense to have your adventurers encounter a "Baird's Beaked Whale" or "Prezewalski's Horse."

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