"In which other spheres of human endeavor is anything still named [after] Hitler?"
A fierce debate has reportedly erupted over whether it's time to give Anophthalmus hitleri (A. hitleri) — an unfortunate Slovenian beetle that was named by an Adolf Hitler-admiring researcher back in 1930s — and many other critters that happen to be named after history's worst people new, less genocide-y names.
As Science reports, the argument has been heating up since January, when the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the global governing body responsible for refereeing the correct use of animal taxonomy, published a paper in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society (ZJLS) decreeing that it wouldn't consider any ethics-based animal renamings.
"If these names are not stable," the ICZN wrote in its judgment, "you can create a massive confusion."
But this decision was met with backlash, and according to Science, that same journal, ZJLS, recently published a series of new editorials from various scientists arguing that the ICZN couldn't be more wrong.
It's about "eliminating the commemoration of people who caused untold human misery," one scientist, botanist Estrela Figueiredo of Nelson Mandela University's Ria Olivier Herbarium, penned in one of the editorials. "In which other spheres of human endeavor is anything still named [after] Hitler?"
"The codes must change and adapt," she added, "like the rest of society.”
What's In a Name
Per Science, A. hitleri isn't even the only bug named after Hitler. Back in 1934, a German paleontologist dubbed a flying prehistoric bug Rochlingia hitleri after the fascist leader. And speaking of fascists, Italy's notorious autocratic leader Benito Mussolini can count a butterfly named in his honor.
Some scientists have also focused heavily on correcting the colonialist legacy present in taxonomy, arguing that a number of plant species should be returned to their indigenous names. A salient example offered by Science is the ongoing debate over the proposed renaming of Hibbertia, a genus of Australian guinea flowers that were renamed for the pro-slavery British plantation owner George Hibbert.
The ICZN continues to argue that renaming efforts could cause confusion. And it's true: maybe name changes could cause a few slip-ups.
But people are adaptable, and the reality remains that naming is a means of preservation — a way to honor someone or something, ensuring their remembrance. The family name gets passed on; an imperialist renames a conquered region in his image; a discoverer of a beetle names it after his political idol. And sometimes, whether it's decades or centuries later, there comes a time to grapple with the fact that some legacies aren't worth honoring. Hitler's probably being at the top of that list.
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