NABOKV-L post 0005189, Thu, 22 Jun 2000 08:30:16 -0700

To Sam et al. re "Nabokov's Blue" (fwd)
From: Kurt Johnson <>

A thousand pardons for missing this one so long; in June my life has not
exactly been my own. To readers (if you don't plow into this reply you'll
miss the story of the moth named Enema pan).

It is not uncommon for common names to be duplicative. This is precisely
why scientists adopted scientific names (perhaps not anticipating that they
would be fought over as well!!!). While there is an International
Commission to monitor scientific names (which, again, to be honest only
stands on ceremony to be considered authoritative [at least as a scientist
one would be a pariah to ignore the Commission at least on basic
nomenclature]) there are no such governing bodies regarding common names.
The closest thing has been creation of "Committees" of various scientific
societies which have tried to make national or continentally based
"definitive lists" of common names-- they have been done for birds, mammals
and butterflies, for instance. But again not everyone agreed; thus for
butterflies there are TWO "official" lists of common names which compete,
depending on which of two rival organizations you belong to (I belong to
both)! One organization used the favorites of it "board of experts"; the
other used the common named it tallied as the most used historically (trying
to conform to the taxonomic criterion of "stability"). Unfortunately the
same anarchy has begun to infiltrate scientific nomenclature. While most
scientists might be pariahs to ignore the Code on basic nomenclature,
because basic taxonomy is not widely taught these days and traditional
taxonomists [for whom training in the Code would have been a requirement]
are often replaced now by molecular (DNA) biologists (who have no training
in the Code in their cirriculum], often the Code is violated inadvertantly,
or more glaringly (at least with regard to types, and also questions of
rank) just ignored ("its old fashioned" being the excuse). This development
is causing much rancor in systematics today (since the field of systematics
would include both taxonomists [trained in the Code] and molecular
systematists [less apt to be trained in the Code, etc.] but both would be
"throwing Latin names around". Also the Commission is slow, and the rules
for getting decisions from it are slow and complex; thus, some workers are
now tempted (more than tempted, some workers are...) forming ad hoc
committees trying to regulate continental or national scientific
nomenclatures (the Latin names) by ad hoc control of editorial boards of
other political strategies (like who gets jobs or positions). It is
becoming a bit chaotic. Thus, common names (which are simply common
parlance) can be duplicative. The two common names "Nabokov's Blue" really
evolved by having two different kinds of origins. F. M. Brown, trying to
hold out an olive branch to Nabokov after their joust in the Lepidopterist
News over statistics, decided to call sublivens "Nabokov's Blue" when there
was really no Latin based reason for him to do so. On the other hand, once
John Masters named idas nabokovi, there was a natural reason, in the usual
common parlance for common names for it to become "Nabokov's Blue" (just
like Madeleinea lolita is Lolita's Blue [actually, technically it is The
Lolita Blue-- a fact pointed out by angered lepidopterists distraught with
Zoland Books' decision to simplify all our common names in our Glossary of
Common Names (p. 341)]. When we prepared the gally proofs for that
Glossary we did it right-- meaning that some Blues were, for instance, The
Lolita Blue and others Krug's Blue etc. based on the syntax of the Latin
suffix, as it should be, if one wants to be technically correct. Without
our knowledge Zoland changed them back (reasoning that our version was too
complex for the average reader) and we did not see the result until it was
in print. ["Tears on my pillow..."]. According to the Code, there cannot
be duplication in scientific names, and this applies in the following
parameters: no genus name can be duplicative AT ALL. Thus when you name a
genus, if you aren't sure and can't check the some 100,000 or more generic
names out there, use an odd spelling! It only has to differ by one letter
not to be duplicative. Thus, to name a genus Rama today, try Rhamma (you'll
probably be OK). Species cannot be duplicative within a genus; subpecies
cannot be duplicative within a species. What happens if, by transfer of
species to other genera you get a duplication? You'd have to go to the
Commission. The oddest recombination of that kind is a species named Enema
pan. Enema was named independent of pan but modern studies led to the
combination. Hilarious! The genus, subgenus, the species, and the
subspecies ARE "obligatory categories" according to the Code, that is, the
ALWAYS have real status (whereas other infraspecific categories like forms,
races, aberrations, etc. IF given names (i) can be used or not depending ont
he discretion of worker for information purposes BUT (2) are at the same
time "unavailable" that is, they cannot be elevated to use as an obligatory
category). Thus a form nabokovi could never be elevated to a rank of
subspecies; a subspecies nabokovi would have had to be named either as a
species or subspecies initially. The reason? species and subspecies are
thought to have "real" e.g. evolutionary/distributional reality, while
races, forms and aberrations are collections of individuals without such
significance. Thus, neither species nor subspecies are "suspect" per se.
However, subspecies are controversial-- e.g. "are they useful?" I think, of
the obligatory categories (recognized as "real" by the Code), the subgenus
and the subspecies are the most contorversial, e.g. prone to the scientific
question "are they useful?". No one argues that species and genera are not
useful. Nabokov loved subspecies because he saw the complexity in
butterfly populations and evolution AND blues are famous for their
infraspecific complexity. In this context one has a fairly good
comprehension of the elements in your question.

ain't taxonomy great?
Kurt Johnson

----- Original Message -----
From: Galya Diment <>
Sent: Tuesday, June 06, 2000 8:21 AM
Subject: "Nabokov's Blue" (fwd)

> From: sam schuman <>
> Am I somehow missing something, or just revealing my lepidopterical
> ignorance? In the enlightening and excellent NABOKOV'S BLUES aren't there
> mentioned two different butterflies which have the common name "Nabokov's
> Blue:" a Minnesota subspecies "Lycaeides idas nabokovi" (p. 317) and
> "Lycaeides idas subliven" (p. 330). Is it "common" for more than one
> variety of animal to have the same common name? ("Aye, Madame, it is
> common..."). Is the first of these a subgroup of the second? I do
> understand that "subspecies" is a somewhat biologically suspect concept.
> Sam
> Samuel Schuman
> Chancellor
> The University of Minnesota, Morris
> Morris, MN 56267
> 320-589-6015