NAMING FISHES: THE CORRECT TERMINOLOGY
Scientific and common names
The scientific name is the only one which is recognized internationally: it ensures
a universal means of communication between workers in the field. It is given in
Latin, following a tradition dating back to the 18th century, and consists of two
- the genus name, with an initial capital or uppercase letter.
- the species name, without a capital.
The scientific name is chosen by whoever discovers the fish, but new scientific
advances may cause the name to be changed. The old name, now of secondary importance,
continues as a synonym. These changes mostly affect the name of the genus. When
the species name is not known for certain, we use the abbreviation sp., an abbreviation
of the Latin word species.
Often the origin of the common name is obscure. It may be translated from Latin,
from another language, borrow a scientist's name, or simply be invented as circumstances
dictate, often somewhat controversially. The absence of any strict rule gives rise
to confusion; while some fish have no common name, others have several. Such is
the case with Gymnocorymbus ternetzi, which has been variously called the black
tetra, the black widow, the blackamoor, and the petticoat fish, but all referring
to the same fish.
PRINCIPLES OF THE CLASSIFICATION OF LIVING CREATURES
A genus can comprise several species sharing common characteristics. A group
of genera related biologically and anatomically is called a family. Related families
make up an order. This gives us the following general scheme:
Where problems arise
Problems of nomenclature — commoner with fish and plants than with invertebrates
- can involve confusions between one species and another. Sometimes the Latin name
continues to be used in the literature, among commercial dealers, and in contacts
between aquarists, until the new scientific name asserts itself. Some newly discovered
species are initially designated by a numerical code or a provisional name. On the
other hand, sometimes the "new" species turns out to be one already known: the result
is that one species now has two names. In this case it is the confusion between
species which gives rise to the problem. The multiplication of breeds, varieties,
and hybrids hardly helps matters; scientists themselves sometimes have trouble finding
their way through the maze, so what hope for the ordinary hobbyist?
In this book, we employ the scientific names in common use today and have deliberately
omitted those too recently coined to win general acceptance. You will also find
Latin synonyms, and names of breeds and varieties.