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Eponyms, including patronyms and matronyms (names honouring a person or several people) is a controversial issue in zoology.
Some people hate them, others love them (perhaps mostly zoologists who, in return of creating eponyms honouring others, might have one or several made in honour of
I have chosen a standpoint somewhere in between.
I accept the use of eponyms in scientific names because I have to, due to the rules of scientific, taxonomical nomenclature, but I try to eliminate eponyms in
common names, as you will see when you browse through this publication.
Zoologists have the right to use eponyms when naming new species, and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent or change such names, since scientific nomenclature follows strict rules. I do understand why some zoologists wish to honour a mentor or someone else who has played an important role in their career or to science in general. I just don't like the tradition, because it does not reveal any useful knowledge related to the animal. Moreover, an eponym may be seen as an expressesion of some sense of belonging or ownership, which I consider inappropriate in the context of wildlife on our planet.
However, in the case of common names, I see absolutely no sensible reason to accept eponyms which honour people, who are possibly of little or no interest at all to the general public, and which contain no valuable information related to the animal itself. If people are interested in the history of zoology, including the reasons why some species have been named in honour of someone, it should suffice to indicate such information in the scientific names.
In this publication, I have consequently replaced most eponyms in common names with alternative suggestions, if none were already available. As it is also the case with many species which have had no common name at all so far, suggested names have mostly been based on distribution, appearance, or type locality (where the species was first found). Eponyms are included herein only for the sake of completeness and for searching purposes. Only in a very few cases (e.g., Blanding's Turtle), I have retained the common name, in spite of being a patronym, because the common name is very well-established, and since no other common name has been proposed or has come to mind.
Let me give you a few examples below in support of my decision to try to eliminate eponyms in the common names of reptiles:
Example 1: No less than 50 reptile taxa (genera, species, subspecies) have been named in honour of George A. Boulenger, one of the greatest herpetologists and ichthyologists of all times. In addition to this comes probably as many or more amphibian and other taxa. Although noone questions Boulenger's importance as a taxonomist, having a probable three-digit number of taxa named after any single individual seems like an attempt to create a legacy which got out of control. In one snake genus, the Centipede Eaters (Aparallactus) of Africa, even two different taxa (Aparallactus boulengeri Werner 1896 and Aparallactus concolor boulengeri Scortecci 1931) have been named in his honour. This kind of confusion is more likely to occur when a eponym honouring the same person is used in excess, although it obviously may also occur with other specific epithets than eponyms. In this particular case, Werner's name has nomenclatural priority over Scortecci's, which becomes unavailable. I am convinced that Boulenger himself would not have appreciated a glorification of his person to this extent, even when made in his honour.
Example 2: There is a conspicuous lack of consequence in the use of eponyms in common names. Why, for instance, is Crotalus mitchelli known as "Speckled Rattlesnake" and not "Mitchell's Rattlesnake", when Agkistrodon taylori is known as "Taylor's Cantil"?
Example 3: If patronyms were used consequently, also in common names, what should we call Cyrtodactylus grismeri and Cyrtodactylus leegrismeri? "Grismer's First Bent-toed Gecko" and "Grismer's Second Bent-toed Gecko", respectively? Hardly a good idea. Although their scientific names do not collide, naming two different species in the same genus after the same person, is likely to create unnecessary confusion.
Example 4: It is worth mentioning that although many zoologists are not opposed to patronyms, it is an unwritten rule that no one names a new taxon after himself/herself/themselves, since it is general consensus that it would be a lack of modesty. This includes suggested common names. There are only very few examples, where this rule has been ignored (e.g., Bungarus walli Wall 1907, which Frank Wall named after himself!). It then seems paradoxical that some common names are made to honour an author who described a certain taxon, even though this author did not suggest the common name himself/herself, but it was suggested subsequently by other authors (e.g., Ichnotropis microlepidota Marx 1957, which has been referred to as "Marx's Rough-scaled Lizard", a common name which the author - Hymen Marx - himself could not have had suggested without receiving critical comments).
Example 5: Sometimes, a new species is named in honour of two or more people, which often produces inconveniently long eponyms, such as Anolis williamsmittermeierorum (currently Dactyloa williamsmittermeierorum), named in honour of E.E. Williams and R. Mittermeier by Poe & Yañez-Miranda (2007). Most people would probably agree that "Williams' and Mittermeier's Anole" would be an unacceptable choice as a common name. As an alternative, I have suggested "Venceremos Anole", after its type locality in Peru.
Example 6: Quite a few eponyms are also very difficult to pronounce for most people, such as "Przewalski's Pygmy Gecko" (Alsophylax przewalskii), "Szczerbak's Armored Pygmy Gecko" (Alsophylax szczerbaki), "Bich Ngan's Bent-toed Gecko" (Cyrtodactylus bichnganae), etc.
Example 7: In some cases, even fictional characters have been honoured, such as the Lombok Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus gordongekkoi), named after the main character, Gordon Gekko, of Oliver Stone's movie "Wall Street", Salazar's Pitviper (Trimeresurus salazar), named after Salazar Slytherin of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, or Vaderscincus (currently a synonym of Oligosoma), named after "Darth Vader" of the Star Wars movies. Accepting "Gordon Gekko's Bent-toed Gecko", "Salazar's Pitviper", and "Darth Vader's Skink" as common names for these species, would be quite controversial. Being fictional, none of these characters have done any service to science, as opposed to some of the people mentioned in the examples above.
Example 8: Apparently, even cars(!) have been honoured through specific epithets (e.g., Sphaerodactylus ladae Thomas & Hedges 1988). Also sponsors and TV programs have been honoured (e.g., Lycodon zoosvictoriae - after Zoos Victoria, the Zoological Parks and Gardens Board of the Australian state of Victoria, Gekko scientiadventura - after the German TV program "Abenteuer Wissen" [="Adventure of Knowledge"], Cyrtodactylus rufford - after the Rufford Foundation, UK).
Example 9: In 2021, the journal Copeia, named after Edward Drinker Cope, a renowned 19th century herpetologist, naturalist, and paleontologist, who identified thousands of vertebrate species, was renamed Ichthyology & Herpetology, because Cope held views on race and women that are undeniably offensive. I think it is reasonable to assume that there are many patronyms and matronyms, which honour people who had views on race and gender that are equally offensive. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) does not allow changing names for such reasons. To avoid the risk of honouring people with offensive views by naming species after them, the simplest solution would be not to use patronyms and matronyms at all.
A very well-known, internationally acknowledged herpetologist, who is not as opposed to patronyms as I am, wrote to me that he does not like "irrelevant patronyms but support ones with a connection [...] or in honour of someone who did a lot of fieldwork in that country or on that taxonomic group, but daughters, employees or pet dogs I have a problem with". However, many other, equally acknowledged herpetologists would disagree with that, considering the large number of existing specific epithets that honour parents, siblings, children, friends, etc., who may not have done any service whatsoever to science. The list of existing patronyms honouring people who have had nothing to do with science seems to be endless. It includes people of controversial reputation, such as (recovered) alcoholics (e.g., Atheris hetfieldi, hounouring musician James Hetfield of the band Metallica).
Another distinguished herpetologist, now deceased, is known to have expressed his dislike of eponyms during the early years of his career. When a friend of mine many years later wrote his obituary, he realized that this herpetologist had described four new species of reptiles during his career, all of them by using patronyms!
So, what happened ...?!! ... Well, maybe later in his career he saw the advantages of patronyms that some of us still have not discovered. Or, maybe the simple answer is that it takes someone from outside the professional community to see that the eponym culture deserves retirement.
The controversial and heavily criticized amateur herpetologist, Raymond Hoser, has named a huge number of new genera, species, and subspecies, of which the majority are eponyms honouring people who are unknown to the scientific community as well as most other people: family members, friends, etc., and - believe it or not - even pets! Among many other things, Hoser has been criticized specifically for his excessive use of eponyms. But in his defense (regarding his use of eponyms) you must ask yourself: who can draw a line between people who are worthy of eponyms and people who are not? I think it is either do or don't. If you accept some patronyms, but not all, you create a grey zone of future controversy.
So, what do you think? That is not for me to decide. This publication, however, will not be promoting the use of patronyms in common names, even if some of these may be considered established.
Let me conclude this "sermon" in favour of eponym-free common names in zoological nomenclature by making a constructive suggestion. I recommend that researchers who describe new species - and wish to honour someone in that context - dedicate the publication, not the species (or other taxon), to the person or people they wish to honour. This is actually seen quite often already. By doing so, the dedication is more likely to be noticed in the future, as opposed to a species (or other taxon) that may disappear into obscurity, if later synonymized with other taxa.