Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature gives some of the weirder etymologies of species names:

Aegrotocatellus Adrian and Edgecombe, 1995 (trilobite) Latin for “sick puppy”.
Brachyanax thelestrephones Evenhuis, 1981 (fly) The name translates from Greek to “little chief nipple twister”.
Campsicnemius charliechaplini Evenhuis, 1996 (dolichopodid fly) “Etymology: This species is named in honor of the great silent movie comedian, Charlie Chaplin, because of the curious tendency of this fly to die with its midlegs in a bandy-legged position.”
Bangiomorpha pubescens Butterfield, 2000 (fossil red alga) The fossil shows the first recorded sex act, 1.2 billion years ago. The “bang” in the name was intended as a euphamism for sex. [Actually named for its strong resemblance to the red alga Bangia and other members of the family Bangiaceae; see John Barrett’s comment below. –SD]

(Via aldiboronti at Wordorigins.)


  1. Amusing.
    I must ask, how many species are named after the discoverer’s dog?

  2. thatwhichfalls says

    On similar lines is the database of Drosophila nomenclature at flynome. It’s a list of fruit fly genes with the, often strange, reasons for their names.
    Symbol: osk
    Story: Embryos are small. The mutation is named after Oskar – the boy who wouldn’t grow from the book ‘The Tin Drum’

  3. Chris Booth says

    Also worth a look is Douglas Yanega’s Curious Scientific Names. My favourite is:

    Cartwrightia cartwrighti Cartwright (scarab beetle; the only scientific name where the genus, species, and author names form a sequence using successive subtraction of the last letter to form the next word).

  4. John Barrett says

    Mid-Proterozoic fossil genus Bangiomorpha was named for its strong resemblance to the living and abundant shallow – tidal water red alga Bangia and other members of the family Bangiaceae, including economically important genus Porphyra widely eaten in Japan and elsewhere. The ecology and morphology have remained little changed for an amazingly long period. If humor helps in remembering the name, perhaps it may be useful, but I hope casual readers will not get a misconception.
    John Barrett Forks WA USA

  5. See now It’ll Never Fly: When Gene Names Are TOO Fun (podcast, transcript).

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    “And then the fruit-fly people are like, ugh, the worm people are total squares.”

    I also now know that there were three famous Defenestrations of Prague. Getting to be a habit …

  7. When I was in Prague, I tried to avoid being too close to windows.

  8. Thanks to John Barrett for that nice correction. I was curious about the further etymology. Hans Christian Lyngbye introduced the name Bangia in 1819 on page 82 of his Tentamen hydrophytologiae danicae, in honor of Niels de Hofman-Bang, the botanist who inspired Lyngbye’s interest in algae. (For more on the Danish name Bang, there is something in Hanks’ Dictionary of American Family Names, p. 94. I haven’t pursued it further.)

  9. Hanks says it’s from Old Danish bang ‘noise.’

  10. Trond Engen says

    There’s a Norwegian family Bang whose early male members were priests and public officials. The name is from the parish of Bagn northwest of Oslo. I’ve always assumed that the Danish Bangs were a branch of the same family, but it seems not.

  11. @Trond Engen

    Thanks for that! I don’t think you have to take the the dictionary I linked to as gospel. I was hoping somebody would take an interest in the topic enough to go and verify the origins of Norwegian and Danish names for me…

  12. I don’t think you have to take the the dictionary I linked to as gospel.

    Yeah, Hanks is careful but not omniscient — he’s dependent on his sources, which vary in value.

  13. Lars Mathiesen says

    Modern bange means afraid, and Bang as an ekename = ‘scaredy’ is plausible. From MLG bange < bi-ango, adverbial to modern G eng. Originally mir ist bange = ‘I’m being constricted’.

    The ODS is not quite explicit, but it looks like it thinks ON bang (quite unrelated) was lost after Old Danish and the cognate noise word imported from English “very recently” (seen from 1919). The Bang family in question does not seem to be old nobility, the most optimistic genealogy starts in 1480 with a commoner Oluf Bang who was good at Latin and became a papal chaplain, whatever that is, and got ennobled in Hungary(!) in 1517. I think Hanks is whistling in the dark.

    It is however true that to a modern Danish schoolboy the name Herman Bang (early 20th century author, the only person of that name likely to feature in a school curriculum) evokes fireworks (but not country matters — that’s knald as in firecracker).

  14. Thank you for doing all that investigation, Lars Mathiesen! I expected that the story would be complicated, as you have laid out.

  15. Lars Mathiesen says

    ¡De nada!

    (Also note that the syllable structure of Bang “supports” stød, which means that whether it does have it is lexical. The author has it, as befits an original bisyllable, but onomatopoietic/expletive bang! does not — showing that they are different words now but not proof in itself that they always were, words lose and acquire stød in mysterious ways.

    ([If you can’t hear the stød, you will miss puns in Danish. Just saying Herman Bang with the stød omitted is a joke entire]).

  16. John Cowan says
  17. Trond Engen says

    Standard Norwegian and Swedish don’t discern tone 1 and 2 in monosyllabics. They’re all tone 1, which corresponds to Danish stød. In fact, I have no idea how to produce tone 2 on a single syllable. But I know that some apocopated Northern dialects do discern and have minimal pairs.

  18. Lars Mathiesen says

    That’s the “support” business — Danish can’t have stød in a short open (mono)syllable or in short+stop ones, but short vowel+resonant works just fine, we just pretend it’s a diphthong and put the glottal constriction on the second element — as one does. (Maybe you could say that Danish long wovels have two moras because the stød goes on the second half, but we don’t, so there). Of course it’s all because of ancient apocope, though I think we mixed and matched a bit since then.

    (Don’t you guys distinguish even on single long vowels? I suppose not, all the contrasting pairs I remember from Swedish are bisyllabic).

  19. Excel autocorrect errors still plague genetic research, raising concerns over scientific rigour:

    Our research shows autocorrect errors, particularly in Excel spreadsheets, can also make a mess of gene names in genetic research. We surveyed more than 10,000 papers with Excel gene lists published between 2014 and 2020 and found more than 30% contained at least one gene name mangled by autocorrect.

    This research follows our 2016 study that found around 20% of papers contained these errors, so the problem may be getting worse. We believe the lesson for researchers is clear: it’s past time to stop using Excel and learn to use more powerful software.

  20. January First-of-May says

    Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature is still extant at (where else?) [original link, for context], but it looks like Yanega’s list went entirely offline circa 2020.

    EDIT: apparently it’s still extant as well, but the underlying website moved, and I didn’t immediately figure out where.

  21. David Marjanović says

    This research follows our 2016 study that found around 20% of papers contained these errors, so the problem may be getting worse. We believe the lesson for researchers is clear: it’s past time to stop using Excel and learn to use more powerful software.

    Or just switch the autoincorrect off. 😐 Yes, that’s pretty easy to do, even in Microsoft products.

  22. John Cowan says

    Autocorrect errors, however, are as nothing to numerical errors in spreadsheets: 88% of all spreadsheets contain these, even neglecting sheets where 1% or less of the cells are wrong. See (Ray Panko at UHawaii is the world expert on spreadsheet errors) for details. Similar figures apply to proofreading, at least of technical text: about 87% of spelling errors are caught, and professional proofreaders are no better than authors, provided the text has sat in the drawer a bit so the author can approach it with fresh eyes. (Wrong-word error detection is only about 66%.)

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