Of slavias and other shurbs

by Derek Burch


I am very involved, professionally and as a matter of personal interest, with the names of plants. I have been around scientific names for so long that their "foreigness" holds no fears for me, but I have a lingering sympathy for people who do not share this familiarity.

What I do have trouble with, however, are the people who cannot understand that there is any value in these names, and are hostile to them even if they are not asked to join in on their use.


Try this:

Does anyone know my Uncle Charlie? His wife and kids know who he is, but they call him Chuck and Dad respectively. His mother used to call him Charles, especially when she was mad. I call him Uncle Charlie, but I am an only child in a small family, so no one else uses that name. At work he is known as Mr. Smith or Sir or boss, and for all I know there are people in various parts of his life who call him Smitty or Buster or perhaps even Cuddles. The IRS writes to him as Mr. Charles Smith. He has a social security number, and a driver's license number and a PIN that identifies him to the computers at the bank when he enters it with his account number.

What is the point of all this? Obviously I am trying to establish a parallel with the common names of plants. Every one of these names or numbers is a valid way of identifying the same person to a particular group, but not every group would know him by one of the other names. Every one of the common names is correct, but the best way to trace him would probably be by the "official" combination of his full baptismal name and his social security number.

I have a friend who also has an Uncle Charlie. Mine is about six foot tall and skinny, his is shorter and inclined to be a little portly. My Uncle Charlie also named his son Charles. (Oh, the urge for immortality!) No doubt at all about which is which when you see them side by side, but we have to be a little careful in conversation to be sure we know whose peculiarities and latest escapades we are discussing.

Does any of this make the case stronger for having one name that everyone can recognize, and for letting that name be one that has a fixed structure to it? Even if, in our private groups we use another that is easier to remember, there should be a name to which everyone has access so that in correspondence or in print, on the telephone or on the internet, it clear what the subject is.

One other thing. If there is an agreed-on name, we really need to spell it correctly. We pay people the respect of getting their names right, why are plants any less deserving of this?

I sit at my lonely keyboard, waiting your comments. will do the trick.

[This editorial first saw the light of day in a publication of Betrock Information Systems. It didn't draw a load of responses there. I am grateful to be allowed to give it a second chance.

Back to Table of Contents