Friday, October 1, 2010

A Fossil Named Pedro

Francis and I were talking the other day about people who name objects. I can think of a few people who have named their cars (Oliver, Scarlet, the Mistress...) and Francis said she has friends who have named various other inanimate objects ie: a hammer named Fred. Then there is the issue of nicknaming people, which as a person with a short first name I've never really experienced (we will not discuss the name I got from a sorority pledge two years ago, and I do not count it as a nickname.) There is also the issue of choosing to call people a different name because it is a complete juxtaposition to what they are actually like, which makes it funny (for example calling the baby Carlos in the movie the Hangover).

I bring up nicknames because I was reading the article "Ancient Giant Penguin Unearthed in Peru" by Katie Moskvitch in the BBC, and the one fact from the article that stands out most in my memory is that the researchers uncovered an ancient penguin fossil, and chose to name it Pedro. Really, researchers? Why Pedro? Please tell me it is not because you were trying to name it something of hispanic-sounding origin simply because it was unearthed in Peru. How expected.

Why name it at all? When a new species is discovered it is given a scientific name, (in this case Inkayacu paracasensis) which is more than good enough to identify the fossil. I don't think calling the fossil Pedro makes any more sense then calling a hammer Fred. But there is a long trend of researchers giving nicknames to their fossil finds, most prominent is probably the "Lucy" fossil found in Olduvai Gorge (the controversy over which I will not go into here) that is named after the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

I can sort of understand naming a fossil, within the context that some of these researchers work their whole careers to make a find of the magnitude of a huge ancient penguin, and therefore feel a sense of attachment to it, and want to name it the way you would name a pet. I do get that, but honestly this is not a goldfish or a puppy, if you work so hard to find something of important scientific significance that should be respected and learned from, why would you ruin that reverence by calling it Pedro?

So there is my personal rant on naming scientific discoveries. If you want to name your houseplant, your car, or even all the inanimate objects in your home, its your life. But I think that giving important fossils goofy names diminishes their importance in the eyes of the public, and these finds (and the researchers who have worked so hard to uncover them) deserve more than that.

No comments:

Post a Comment