ICZN logo by Martyn E. Y. Low. CCBY license.

ICZN logo by Martyn E. Y. Low. Licensed under CCBY 3.0.

While writing the previous post, I wanted to know if the long-standing tradition of not naming species after oneself is just a tradition or an actual rule. Rules and guidelines for this sort of thing are set by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, so I checked their website. In the section about Latinizing proper names, I found this gem:

Adjectives based on the endings –anus/ -ana/ -anum or –ianus/ -iana/ -ianum are not recommended because they can sound rude, for example using the surname Bush could result in bushianus. Do not use a name which may cause offence (Appendix A); it is advisable to check with the person after whom the new species is being named that they are happy for their name to be used. Care should be taken because incorrectly formed names cannot always be changed afterwards (Articles 32, 34).

The same section also includes this:

While there are different endings for male and female names, there is no implied value judgement in the endings.

I’m really not sure what that means.


  1. cartomancer says

    At a guess it means that the grammatical gender of the adjective will not necessarily bear any relation to the actual gender of the person whose name the adjective is formed from, nor will it necessarily imply that there is any primacy for one gender or the other.

    In Latin the gender of the adjective must agree with the grammatical gender of the noun it modifies, so a feminine noun like, say, feles (cat) would take a feminine adjective (ending in -a if it’s a standard first/second declension adjective) – feles magna (big cat) or feles pulchra (pretty cat) for instance. Should someone male discover a new species of cat and decide to give it a Linnaean classification based on his name, it would have to be in the feminine (so, Feles Attenboroughiana, rather than Feles Attenboroughianus).

    Males of the species would not in any way be implied to be inferior by the fact that the name is grammatically feminine. Even though such cultural attitudes have been present among Latin speakers in the past. The words for farmer (agricola) and sailor (nauta) and poet (poeta), for instance, are grammatically feminine, but classical Romans sometimes insisted on using masculine forms of the adjective for them because they were male jobs and a feminine form would appear demeaning.

Leave a Reply