Message 2002-04-0003: Fwd: Gender of species names?

Thu, 18 Apr 2002 08:26:14 -0400

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Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 08:26:14 -0400
From: Philip Cantino <>
Subject: Fwd: Gender of species names?

David Marjanovic wrote:
>In his gigantic critique of an early version of the PhyloCode,
>Michael J. Benton
><> moans "the 
>obvious problem of frequently re-used specific epithets (e.g. the
>snoeshow hare, Lepus americanus, the Rocky Mountain goat, Oreamnos
>americanus, the American black bear, Ursus americanus, the moose,
>Alces americana, the pronghorn, Antilocapra americana, the American
>marten, Martes americana, which all become americanus)" which, he
>writes, can be solved by e. g. adding numbers to the names.
>         What will happen to gender endings under PhyloCode? I
>haven't seen any mentioning of this problem anywhere else so far.
>Could we leave them "uncodified" so that they can be adapted to
>whatever clade address is used in front of them?
>BTW, I've written an even bigger critique of Benton's critique, and
>one of Platnick's critique
>(<>, and 
>put them on a website that I must repair... the two editors I use,
>MS Word and MS FrontPage Express, are amazingly incompatible and
>have ruined much of the layout. I'll post the URLs later. -- You can
>certainly guess almost every word I wrote anyway. :-)

I will take this opportunity to point out a recent response to Benton
and other critics that Harold Bryant and I published in Biological
Reviews (77: 39-55 [2002]).  Our paper addresses common threads that
run through the various critiques of phylogenetic nomenclature that
have been published by Benton, Nixon & Carpenter, etc.

I don't think that the point that David raises here has been
discussed previously.  I agree with Fredrik's preference to retain
the gender of the epithet as it appears in the preexisting
combination from which the species name is converted.  In order to
adapt the epithet to the clade address that immediately proceeds it
(one possibility suggested by David), one would have to know the
gender of each clade name.  This would be time-consuming to determine
and would be especially difficult for clade names that were not
converted from genus names.

David's question raises another issue.  Epithet-based species names
have both advantages and disadvantages, which were discussed at
length in a multi-authored 1999 paper in Systematic Biology.  One
negative aspect of epithet-based names that was not discussed in that
paper is that converting an epithet to a name will entail using an
adjective as a noun.  Names should be nouns, but epithets like
americana, latifolia, purpurea, etc. are descriptive adjectives.  If
one translates the Latin into one's native language, these words
sound very peculiar as names (e.g., naming a species of plant
"broad-leaved").  This is an esthetic issue and not terribly important when
compared to the philosophical and operational pros and cons of
epithet-based and binomial-based naming methods.  Nonetheless, I do
think it is worth taking into consideration in the ongoing discussion
of how species will be named under the PhyloCode.


Philip D. Cantino
Professor and Chair
Department of Environmental and Plant Biology
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701-2979

Phone: (740) 593-1128; 593-1126
Fax: (740) 593-1130


Feedback to <> is welcome!