Neat post here at Daily Writing Tips: Ten More Naming Words Ending in -nym.
Eponym, exonym, autonym … I knew that the Welsh call themselves Cymry, not “Welsh,” but I’d forgotten that.
What a great-looking language Welsh is. Or perhaps I should say, what a great-looking language Cymraeg is. Either way, that is a language that looks wonderful on the page.
Moving on, I see there’s a word for something I’m familiar with:
Tautonym — this is the word for scientific names like Gorilla gorilla or Crocuta crocuta. A “tautonym” is the word for repetitious taxonomic names. I never knew that! That’s quite common. The second example is the spotted hyena, incidentally. Generally, one takes a repetitious taxonomic name to mean that historically, this member of the genus was considered to be “most representative of” the genus — it was named first or is by far the most widespread or something. All other species within the genus are probably defined at least partially in terms of their dissimilarities to the species with the repetitive name. This is true even if the species with the tautonym is really quite an outlier for the genus.
The red fox, for example, Vulpes vulpes, is thought of, at least in England and the US, as kind of the fox’s fox, the ur-fox, what a fox is like. When you pick up a kid’s book and it says “F is for fox,” the picture is of a red fox. Then we say, well, a swift fox, Vulpes velox, is smaller than the red fox and different in these other ways.
(The swift fox, once very seriously endangered, is now a species of least concern, by the way; a real success story for conservation. Just thought I’d throw that out in case you wanted a tidbit of good news today.)
Anyway, Linnaeus and other early taxonomists tended to think of the red fox first and describe the other Vulpes members in terms of the red fox, even though the red fox is the biggest Vulpes species and rather an outlier and not actually typical for the genus. But because a European came up with the system of Latinized binomial nomenclature, the red fox was named first and so it’s got the tautonymous name.
The spotted hyena is by far the most numerous and successful extant hyena species. As it happens, it’s also rather typical of the hyaenids, if you line ’em all up from earliest to latest. There’s a fair bit of variation, certainly, but Crocuta crocuta is reasonably typical of the family. Amazingly enough, here is a Youtube presentation about extinct hyaenids. Wow. I didn’t expect anybody to have made anything like that. You know, the hyaenid family makes a really interesting contrast with the canidae family … which I guess I’m drifting off topic. A bit.
Anyway, tautonym. Great word. I’m going to remember that one.