The Art of Naming


MITPress (2019), Edition: Reprint, 312 pages


Ohl, Michael

Number of Pages




Publication Year


Original Language


Categories and Tags

Nonfiction, Paperback, Taxonomy

Dewey Subjects

Life Sciences, Biology > Microscopy in Biology > Natural sciences and mathematics > Theory And Instruction


From Tyrannosaurus rex to Heteropoda davidbowie: scientific naming as a joyful and creative act.

Tyrannosaurus rexHomo sapiensHeteropoda davidbowie. Behind each act of scientific naming is a story. In this entertaining and illuminating book, Michael Ohl considers scientific naming as a joyful and creative act. About 1.8 million discovered and named plant and animal species, and millions more are still to be discovered. Naming is the necessary next step after discovery; it is through the naming of species that we perceive and understand nature. Ohl explains the process with examples, anecdotes, and a wildly varied cast of characters. He describes the rules for scientific naming; the vernacular isn’t adequate. These rules—in standard binomial nomenclature, the generic name followed by a specific name—go back to Linnaeus but are open to idiosyncrasy and individual expression. A lizard is designated Barbaturex morrisoni (in honor of the Doors’ Jim Morrison, the Lizard King); a member of the horsefly family Scaptia beyonceae. Ohl, a specialist in “winged things that sting,” confesses that among the many wasp species, he named the Ampulex dementor after the dementors in the Harry Potter novels. Scientists have also deployed scientific names to insult other scientists, make political statements, and express romantic love: “I shall name this beetle after my beloved wife.”

The Art of Naming takes us on a surprising and fascinating journey, in the footsteps of the discoverers of species and the authors of names, into the nooks and crannies and drawers and cabinets of museums and through the natural world of named and not-yet-named species.



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