Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?





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Dogs, Cats and Insects have Common Names

According to my dictionary, a name is the title by which a person or thing is known or designated. As a part of speech, names are nouns. And nouns, well, my dictionary says that they are names. Not surprising, I suppose, since the word noun is derived from the Latin nomen, meaning name.

Everything has a name. That is so we can talk about it. Think how difficult language would be if things didn't have names. We would have to reference everything in descriptive terms. For example, most people live in a structure for human habitation, which is fixed in place and intended for the private occupation of a family or families. It's a lot easier to say "house."

People have learned to associate all kinds of things with names over time. A barn has a different odor than a factory or a house--not because barns have different odors than other structures, but because of what we do in those structures.

Those mental images associated with names may or may not be related to the words that we use for the names. That is what old Bill Shakespeare had in mind when, in "Romeo and Juliet," he wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Living things also have names. There are dogs, cats, mice and all other kinds of living animals. The word "dog" is what scientists call a common name. Common names are widely used by the general population for animals. 

Sometimes, more that one common name for the same animal exists. So, to eliminate the confusion associated with more than one name, scientists give living creatures a scientific name. This name has two parts, based on the genus and species names of the animal. Dogs belong to the genus Canis, which also includes wolves and coyotes. Dogs, however, are classified in the species familaris. Wolves are in another species, nubilus. So the scientific name of your pet dog is Canis familaris.

Many insects have common names. In fact, most insects have more than one common name. Some people call the light-producing beetles fireflies. Other people refer to these insects as lightning bugs. In Europe, the same insect is called a glowworm. Some people know a dragonfly as a snake doctor or the devil's darning needle. Dung beetles are called tumblebugs by some people.

So widely used are insect common names that the Entomological Society of America has an official common names list. There are hundreds of insects listed. Recently some names were added to the list, including, the Fivespotted gamagrass leafhopper, the Omnivorous leafroller, the Salt Creek tiger beetle and that new pest of soybeans, the Soybean aphid. While these names may seem a bit cumbersome to use, they are not as difficult as the scientific names. The Soybean aphid is scientifically known as Aphis glycines and the Omnivorous leafroller as Platynota stultana.

In case you were wondering, eight new insect names are being considered for the common names list. The insects nominated include Anoplophora glabripennis, Compasus auricephalus and Zopherus nodulosus haldemani. The proposed common names for these insects are Asian longhorned beetle, the goldenheaded weevil and the southwestern ironclad beetle. I didn't say the common names were shorter, but they are easier to remember! 



Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox