A-Z of botany: tautonym
New York may be so good they named it twice but whether you are merely repeating yourself with a tautology or are a botanist breaking the rules with a tautonym, you really should know better!
A tautonym is one of those curiosities of nomenclature that separates Botany from Zoology. In botany it is forbidden to name a plant so that the genus is the same word as the species. Zoologists have it easy though – or they are just unimaginative. So in the animal world you get:
Bison bison – that’s a bison!
Chinchilla chinchilla – yep – a chinchilla
Conger conger – conger eel
Gazella gazella – a mountain gazelle
Gerbillus gerbillus – yes, you guessed it – a gerbil
Giraffa giraffa – a giraffe
Glis glis – edible dormouse, Gorilla gorilla*, Lynx lynx, Pipistrellus pipistrellus and so on! **
But this is not allowed with plants. The closest I can think of is the tongue-twisting Soleirolia soleirolii, the humble mind-your-own-business, used as moss in the basket above. It used to be Helxine soleirolii and I guess that when the genus was changed the species name was considered valid, resulting in the ridiculous ten syllables.
*The Western Lowland gorilla is actually Gorilla gorilla subspecies gorilla!
** Where the name is a tautonym that species is the type species (representative) for the genus.
That’s taut me something 🙂
Very good 🙂
Thank you for this explanation. Just one question, why aren’t tautonyms allowed in botany? Thanks , Fiona Clarke
I have no idea! Just one of those rules – I am not a botanist. Thank you for commenting 🙂