Naming species and the danger of good intentions

It can be a bit of a challenge to come up with a meaningful name for a new beetle. I’m working on a paper or two in which I will be describing several new species of Bembidiina from North America.  One of them is that brilliant green Bembidion from New Mexico and Arizona I showed in an earlier post. What should I call it?

I could use the Latin word for green, which is “viridi”.  That would mean the full name would be “Bembidion viride” – oh, wait, someone already used that name.  Maybe “Bembidion viridanum”?  Nope, also used. “Bembidion viridicolle”? “Bembidion viridiaeneum”?  Both taken.  In a genus of over 1200 named species, it is hard to find a good, new name.

A popular source of new names has become the names of the indigenous people of an area.  I like this approach, as it honors the people who first inhabited the area, and who perhaps, because of their closeness to nature, encountered these organisms many years ago.

One group of people that lives in the same area as the brilliant green Bembidion, along the shores of the Gila River in western New Mexico, were the Mimbres, around 900 years ago. They were very aware of the insects in their surroundings: many of their classic black-and-white pottery designs depicted insects.  I like to imagine that some child, playing along the side of the river, encountered a bright green beetle one day, and watched it skitter under a leaf.  It seems that “Bembidion mimbres” would be a very appropriate name for this beautiful beetle, and that in so naming it the Mimbres people and their connection to nature would be honored.  And so that was my plan.

However, I recently talked to a friend who works with native languages, and he pointed out that it wasn’t appropriate to name a species after a tribe without gaining permission.  He noted that it is possible that a tribal name was not the one they called themselves; it might be a name given to the group by their enemies, and, in the worst case, might mean something like “the evil people on the other side of the mountain”.  I have no idea if this is the case for the Mimbres, but I need to ask permission.  However, the Mimbres are no more, and it isn’t completely clear which modern group are their descendents, although the Hopi is thought to be a likely possibility.  So, I have sent a query, and we will see whether “Bembidion mimbres” is an option, or not.

This entry was posted in Revising Bembidiina, Taxonomic Process and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Naming species and the danger of good intentions

  1. Pingback: Names in native languages | The Subulate Palpomere

  2. Pingback: Names approved! | The Subulate Palpomere

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