Over the years, I have assigned many new names to silkmoth species that have lacked a common name. Here is a published list with the current newly assigned common names to many iconic species, that I have given them personally.
Wait a second, Bart. What gives YOU the right to name a species?
The taxonomical system has very strict rules. Binomial names (scientific names) cannot randomly be assigned by anyone, and often come along with complicated taxonomic revisions, nomenclature, and species descriptions.
However, the common name is not subject to any official rules, and is often arbitrarily assigned. While common names are often shaped by culture and language, they can change over time. What really decides if a common name is assigned to a species or not, is simply how many people use it. If everyone starts calling a species a particular common name, and it is referenced in literature and people become habituated to it, and the name is adopted. Why do we call a “fish” a fish and not a waterchicken? Because it’s the name that is now widespread and adopted and agreed upon by everyone.
It’s simple. Because of my online -presence, I have a lot of influence over the species I expose to social media – some of them are totally unknown to the general public, and the names I give them tend to be adopted over time. When I photograph, film, or write about a species, I have the influence to introduce thousands of people to a species nobody really knew about before. And influence, combined with how the public adopts it, decides a common name. The names I give a species always find their way into books, literature and more, and become adopted by the public. I am one of the few people that has influence over insects, which gives me a unique position to promote these species to a new public.
What is the point in all of this? Do you have this much time to waste?
It can be more important than you think it is. Common names are useless from a scientific point of view, and arbitrary. However, for public relations, they are extremely important, and make many charismatic species more exciting to the general public. It’s sad that many iconic species lack one; surely the average person is more excited to learn about a “Pink spirit moth” than an “Actias rhodopneuma”, and may make the species more exciting to people without a lot of experience with insects. Personally, I do not care much for common names. But from a conservation point of view, people are more eager to help a charismatic species called a “comet moth” than an “Argema mittrei”, and it makes the species more relateable to people, and gives them a meaningful name. Sadly, animals often still need to be marketed as a product to convince people to care about them. It’s hard to believe many such beautiful, unique and awe inspiring animals have lived for centuries without a commonly agreed upon name. And if nobody else did it, I will do it for them.
Species I named:
Scientific name: Actias rhodopneuma (Röber , 1925)
New Given name: “Pink spirit moth”
Etymology: Inspired by the scientific name, and my good friend Andrew Spicer from the UK. When speaking to him, he told me he loves the scientific name of Actias rhodopneuma, because loosely translated, it means “pink spirit” (rhodon ‘rose/pink’ + pneumos ‘spirit/soul’ in Greek). That always make me think off them as ‘pink spirit moths’, which is why I assigned them this name.
Scientific name: Actias chapae (Mell, 1950)
New Given name: “Celestial moon moth”
Etymology: “Lunar moth, comet moth, moon moth” – certainly the names of many moon moths reference the stars, the sun, or gods and godesses (isis, luna, selene) related to celestial bodies. Interestingly, a species so beautiful and iconic as Actias chapae had no common name. “Celestial moon moth” sounds fitting.
Scientific name: Ceranchia apollina (Butler, 1878)
New Given name: “Ghostly silkmoth”
Etymology: It’s ghostly, hauntingly beautiful white appearance. A proper name for this species, which totally lacked one.
Scientific name: Holocerina angulata (Aurivillius, 1893)
New Given name: Angulate batwing
Etymology: Angulate already refers to the scientific name, and the unusual angulation of the wings. “Batwing” refers to Holocerina and their general bat-like appearance.
New Given name:
Of course, no one is obliged to use these names, and I am not pushing them or forcing them upon anyone, although I do trust that over time, they will fall into usage and find their way it literature. It is simply an attempt to market a few common and iconic species that need to recieve more attention from the public, and makes them more unique and charismatic – something that is important to make the average person more excited about moths.
Citations: Coppens, B. (2019)
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