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