Names, classifications, and knowledge

April 24, 2007

In one of the egroups I belong to, there has been some debate about using the common names or scientific names of trees/plants, with some people feeling that it is elitist to use scientific names. Here are my thoughts:

I too am a beginner with very limited knowledge, but I find it very interesting to look at both common and scientific names and that sometimes leads me into so many different realms: of history, geography, the Latin language, some local language influences….to give some examples:

History: The Tamarind tree…the name is derived from Tamar-e-hind, or Date of India. This name was given to the trees by the Mughals.

Geography: Names like Bombax indica, Mangifera Indica, or the Ficus Mysorensis….these are probably the precursors of today’s “Geographical Indication”! They say that these trees have been “placed” in India.

The Latin language: Like Swagat has explained one name; “Ficus” means, “of the fig, fig”, so if one finds trees with any sort of figs on them they are likely to belong to the Ficus classification. The name holarrhena antidysenterica, surely is self-explanatory about the use of the tree.

Local influences on the Latin language: sometimes local names or cultural indications are included, like the Krishna Buttercup has the scientific name Ficus Krishnae, or the Peepul is Ficus Religiosa.

The same is often true of other aspects of Nature, too. Panthera Tigris…I start wondering whether this has something to do with the Tigris river in Mesopotamia. Did they once have tigers there, too? Interesting speculation!

I must also admit that many bird, insect and butterfly names completely confound me! Why call a butterfly the Common Mormon? The only Mormon I know about is Brigham Young and his band of followers in Utah!… But I leave it at that and accept the names as they are.

So to me, each branch of study leads me into several other areas of knowledge, which are all interconnected in the grand whole of Nature. I pick up a small pearl of knowledge, here and there, while, as as great a scientist as Newton said, “before me lies the vast ocean of Truth”, not yet discovered, and probably beyond human comprehension.

Thanks to the Internet and several search engines, much of specialized information need not be physically remembered but stored and accessed, so beginners like me need not try to remember everything.The internet allows us, also, to get the information from experts who are willing to share with us. No one can really know everything, but the really knowledgeable people are those who have all this stored in the original memory bank…their brains!

On my voyage of discovery, I leave profound knowledge to the experts and am happy to learn just a little bit every day. And if I forget it…well, I have the experts and the Internet!