Science is serious business. The search for knowledge requires dedication, patience and an accurate analysis of the facts. When the hard work is over and a new entity has been discovered, a scientist can celebrate the crowning moment of his or her achievement by naming what he has found.
For most scientists, this means coming up with a profound or descriptive name that will be recognized worldwide. For some, however, it is a chance to be playful after years of serious study. Sometimes a name is just weird.
Here are 10 of the funniest names you’ll find in the annals of science.
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0 Turdus maximus
The thrush family of birds never really stood a chance when it came to their names. To start with, thrush is the common name for a yeast infection in the genitals. But long before the English language played a dirty trick on thrushes, the Romans had labeled them another. For a Latin speaker, a thrush was called a Turdus.
When Latin American scientists decided to develop the binomial method of naming animals, they stuck to the name Turdus on all thrushbirds. This has led to some now amusing names like Sylvia base, but there is one bird that got the worst label of all. The Tibetan blackbird is quite large, but what would you call it? Turdus maximus?
9 Scaptia beyonceae
Taxonomy, the naming and classification of species based on their alleged relationships, is usually considered a dry and arcane subject. However, those who spend their time studying species can use their naming power to spark public interest in their work. Naming a species after a famous person is usually good for some press articles – even if the associate isn’t always enthusiastic about the animal named after them.
When researchers described a rare fly discovered in 1981, they took note of its most remarkable property and came up with the perfect name. This bow tie has a gorgeous set of golden hair on the back end. You could say it was “Bootylicious”. For this reason, the researchers named the fly after Beyonce, who also shares a year of birth with the discovery of the fly.
8th Little frogs
The smallest vertebrate in the world is called a frog Paedophryne amauensis. When fully grown, it’s tiny, 7.7 millimeters long, and can comfortably fit on your little fingernail. Given this tough competition, the three frog species named in 2019 had to somehow stand out in the world of small frogs.
Scouring the vast Malagasy jungles for such tiny frogs was just one difficulty. After being tracked down by listening to their calls, the frogs had to be examined.
Given the size of the three new species, between 8 millimeters and 15 millimeters, this was a difficult task. But finally, scientists were certain they were all new species, belonging to a brand new genus –Mini. So the researchers named the frogs minimum, Mini tools, and Miniature.
Chemistry is known as a smelly science – and for good reason. Working in a lab can be an assault on your senses, ranging from subtly pleasant to downright harmful. In centuries past, the sense of smell, and sometimes taste, was the best way to distinguish different compounds – although chemical licking is frowned upon these days. However, some chemicals still bear the names of their smells.
The polyamine group of chemicals has strong odors and their names are consistent with this trait. As the name suggests, putrescine and cadaverine are some of the chemicals that give rotting meat its odor. As for spermidine? It smells like you can imagine.
However, spermidine is not only found in male ejaculate. It’s found in foods like aged cheese, and some studies have shown that it can help fight liver cancer. Swallowing can be good for your health.
If you name a chemical according to the agreed international standard, you can map it precisely using its descriptive moniker. However, these names can be so long that they are unwieldy. Scientists give the substances nicknames.
When a group of researchers synthesized a new chemical, they must have celebrated and forgotten to close the window. During the night a pigeon flew into the laboratory and left feces everywhere. They took this as a sign and named the chemical “Cristane” after “Crissum”, the anus of a bird.
Arsole has a more prosaic etymology. A chemical known as phosphole contains a phosphorus atom. After that atom was replaced with an atom, the researchers simply added that to the name instead.
Although arsole hasn’t been purified, scientists have created a group of similar molecules that are all arsoles. There is no reliable report that describes the smell of an arsole.
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3,4,4,5-Tetramethylcyclohexa-2,5-dien-1-one doesn’t actually roll off the tongue. For a chemist, this name conjures up an image of a ring molecule with various attachments. However, to the non-scientist, the name probably doesn’t mean much. But name the compound Pinguinon and you can probably guess what it looks like.
Pinguinon is not yet known to be used, but at least it gives chemists something to put on their Christmas cards.
4th Sonic Hedgehog
The SHH Gene is one of the most important genes in animal development. From insects to humans, the product of this gene plays an important role in embryo growth. It’s involved in everything from brain growth to eye development.
What does SHH do? Sonic Hedgehog.
Sonic Hedgehog is the name for the protein from SHH. When researchers turned off several related genes in fruit flies, they found that the animals developed short, spiky hair – a bit like the bristles of a hedgehog. The genes were named after hedgehogs – such as the Indian or desert hedgehog. One researcher decided not to name his gene after a real animal and went with Sonic the Hedgehog.
Not every scientist was happy about this name. “It’s the kind of idea you talk about in a pub and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we called it Sonic?’ Said one researcher, “But then you don’t do it.”
3 Idiotic acid
Naming a chemical by its source is a common way of distinguishing compounds – as spermidine has shown. What else would you call an acid that comes from a tree called? It must except weak acid?
Moronic acid isn’t as stupid as the name suggests. Studies of the compound have shown that it can be a powerful remedy for HIV and herpes.
Moronic acid isn’t the only humorously named chemical derived from a plant. When naming a compound purified from the plant Vinca pubescensResearchers decided Pubescine was a perfectly normal name.
Tuojiangosaurus is a genus of herbivorous dinosaur that looked like the North American one Stegosaurus. Living in China around 155 million years ago, Tuojiangosaurus was an early relative of the stegosaurs, which would later evolve. Although it was an early ancestor, it had already developed a four-spiked tail that was used as a defense against predators. Let’s hope it had a well-developed sense of humor too.
Tuojiangosaurus Maybe you don’t notice this as a funny name at first. In addition to an almost perfectly preserved skeleton, the Natural History Museum in London gave the pronunciation of its name as “Two-wang-oh-sore-us”. Little is known about the dinosaur’s genitals, but it is unlikely that it had two cheeks or was sore over them.
Since then, the scientific community seems to have recognized their mistake and changed the pronunciation dictionary to “too-YANG-oh-sore-us” on most websites. The physical symbol in the Natural History Museum remains unchanged.
There is no higher honor for a mineralogist than to have a mineral named after him. Each year, the International Mineralogical Society’s New Minerals and Mineral Names Commission names around 40 new minerals as they are discovered.
This process ensures that new minerals do not get the same name as those already discovered. When colleagues wanted to name a mineral after the mineralogist Paul Moore, it was discovered that a bogite was already in the books. So Paulmoorit was born.
Most minerals will end with the names of their discoverers. This is how you get to Jimthompsonite, but that’s not how Cummingtonite got its name. This mineral was discovered in Cummington, Massachusetts and is usually in the form of slender crystals. It has also become a popular chat-up line for geology students around the world.
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