|blue policeman (Coeliades chalybe)|
In fact we often use our names for the wildlife around us to describe ourselves or others – ‘eagle-eyed’ or having a ‘bee in your bonnet’. If you take the time and trouble to find out, you will discover that common names in any language can say a lot about people and culture. The Igbo name for Pararistolochia goldieana, the largest flower in Africa, is ekommili, describing the unopened flower which is similar in shape to the local blacksmith’s bellows (eko) but very fragile (mmili).
Which brings us to scientific names. Every organism on earth which has been classified by a scientist has a two-part scientific name. They are based on Latin or Greek words, or on Latinised versions, and provide a common scientific language worldwide. The scientist who first identifies and describes the organism gets to name it, following internationally accepted rules. This may sound dull but some scientific names are every bit as interesting as common names. If you learnt Latin at school, you would know that Pararistolochia means distinct from but similar to (para-) Aristolochia (another group of related plants). The second part, goldieana, describes this plant specifically, in this case that it was brought to the attention of scientists by the Reverend Hugh Goldie, a missionary who lived in Calabar in the 1880s.
|Pararistolochia goldieana, buds and open flowers|
Next time you find out the name of a bird or butterfly or plant, check what the name means or how it got its name. You may find out something very interesting and it may also help you to remember the name.
Deni Bown 21 March 2012