Pison eu, Colon grossum!

Dorcas titanus, better known as the giant stag beetle, has a dirty sounding name
Dorcas titanus, better known as the giant stag beetle (Photo by Takato Marui via Wikimedia Commons)

“No zoologist should propose a name that, to his knowledge, gives offense on any grounds.”

– The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature

• • •

If you discovered a delicate, lemon-scented jonquil flower previously unknown to science, would you saddle it with a name like assoanus? Or designate whole genera as the Fartulum, or the Fukuia? What kind of Peniculus asinus would do that? It reminds me of parents surnamed Balls who’ve named their sons Claude. What were they thinking?

Colon grossum – a beetle, cf. Colon monstrosum

Didymella fuckeliana – a fungus

Dolichuranus primaevus – an extinct mammal-like Triassic reptile

Dorcus titanus – the giant stag beetle

Eremobates inyoanus – an arachnid native to California

Fartulum nubulosum – a marine snail

Fukuia – a genus of Japanese snails

Narcissus assoanus – a jonquil flower

Narcissus assoanus (photo by Ghislain118 via Wikimedia commons)
Narcissus assoanus (photo by Ghislain118 via Wikimedia commons)

Peniculus asinus  – a marine copepod

Turdus migratorius – the American robin

Pinus contorta – a pine tree, cf. Pinus rigida

Pison eu – a South American wasp

Texananus delicatus – a leafhopper


  1. You would probably like Mutinus caninus although the Latin name is not so funny in you don’t know Latin. The french common name is pretty clear, Phallus de Chien. English common name is dog stinkhorn . . .

  2. And not even Amorphophallus titanum, a name which quite accurately describes the shape and size of the spadix of this plant? We need more research here.

    Thing is, sometimes, the offense is not meant to be offensive. For example, Brodiaea kinkiensis isn’t into bondage. It’s a rare flower that only occurs on San Clemente Island, which was known as Kinki or Kinkipar by its original inhabitants. I’m a little surprised at inyoanus, though. Not inyoensis?

    As for all the Pine (Pinus) jokes, I mean, come on. Where’s Pinus ponderosa, Pinus resinosa, Pinus flexilis, Pinus discolor, Pinus remota, Pinus longaeva, and even Pinus edulis (edulis means edible)? Only Pinus contorta, the well-known lodgepole pine? Puhleeze. Go for the overkill. After all, undergrads have been giggling about them for centuries.

  3. My favorites in an undergrad sea anemone lab were Priapus senilis and Priapus equinus (“old man penis” and “horse penis”) — having seen specimens preserved in jars, I’d say the names were…apt.
    And working in a foram lab, there were plenty of Vaginulinidae, lots of “labiosa”, etc., as the apertures can be quite…O’Keeffesque.

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