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Re: Standard Common and Current Scientific Names

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Posted by Richard Wells on June 26, 2002 at 03:54:21:

In Reply to: Standard Common and Current Scientific Names posted by Travis on June 08, 2002 at 15:08:17:

Just a few quick thoughts on this standardization of vernacular names for reptiles and amphibians...
I can readily understand your desire for such a list, for there would be considerable advantages in having such a stable standard in place. But as with most advantageous endeavours, the path to achievement can be anything but a smooth ride. As you would realise some just don't want to travel down that path...and so be it, for whether or not such standardized vernacular name lists are a good idea or a bad one really can ultimately depend upon who yells their point of view the loudest. As I see it, value-judgements about the utility or potential value of such a list are potentially endless - because there may be really good arguments both for and against such lists from my experience. As a consequence of this dilemma, my approach has been to take on board anything that is workable or useful and step around what I'm not willing to accept. In Australia, the limited movement towards a standardized vernacular names list has been really of an inconsequential nature as far as I can see. And really no-one in the general public seems to care all that much whether such a list (or even our herpetofauna) exists or not. It is really more in the arena of herpetological opinion that the issue froths up from time to time. As I say I can easily live with or without such a list because my communications are strictly based on scientific names. In Australia, concerns for the stability of scientific names are of greater intensity than those for the stability or standardization of vernacular names, and this is easier to understand. Personally, however, I find the stability ethos for any state of knowledge potentially dangerous as it often hinges on subjective rather than objective argument. But I'm not Plato or Socrates...just a humble snake keeper!
Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how vested interests argue to and fro over needs for this or that. I think such a list or a few competing lists of vernacular names for Australian species will eventually be created. Such a list however will have to have overridden the apathy in the herpetological community as to the need for such a list, as well as weathered a storm of disagreement in the herpetological community as to the potential value of such a list. But that said it likely won't really make much of a difference here in Australia.
As is now well-known, the Australian herpetofauna is vast in its diversity - and despite what some 'experts' say, there are still many species yet to be formally named scientifically - I know of well over 100 species of lizards and snakes in Australia that not only haven't been formally been described - but even published as photographs! Herpetologists in Europe and North America will be stunned when they are eventually made aware of some of our 'hidden' herpetofauna. So any list of vernacular names will of course have to change as taxonomic work on our herpetofauna occurs. Another matter that could work against the potential standard is the choice of English itself for some species are more well-known by their native aboriginal names. In fact most of the Australian herpetofauna is without a vernacular name at all, so someone will have to 'invent' one...and such actions are likely to lead to many less-than funny opinions about their appropriateness or otherwise. Ehmann's otherwise excellent book on the Australian lizard and snake fauna was severely mauled by his obvious well-intentioned attempt at coining a vernacular name for each...many of which are so ludicrous as to be laughable.

Anyway I'll be happy to add more on this later if you like, because right now I have to get my daughter her dinner....

With Kind Regards

Richard Wells

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