Name Drop

The bird-eating Avicularia merianae, and other critters described by Maria Sibylla Merian.

In “She Unnames Them,” her 1985 New Yorker short story, Ursula K. Le Guin reimagines a radical Genesis: “The insects parted with their names in vast clouds and swarms of ephemeral syllables buzzing and stinging and humming and flitting and crawling and tunnelling away.” As an act of feminist rebellion, the story’s nameless yet recognizable heroine dissolves the “Linnaean qualifiers that had trailed along behind them for two hundred years like tin cans tied to a tail.” That impulse is not shared by Stephen B. Heard, a biologist at the University of New Brunswick and a devotee and defender of Latin names. “They’re long, they’re unmemorable and unpronounceable, and they’re at best a necessary evil that biology students memorize as some kind of scientific hazing ritual,” he writes in Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider. “Everyone knows this. But everyone is wrong.”

You can read the article here.

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