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What’s in a name? Taxonomic and gender biases in the etymology of new species names

Cite this dataset

Poulin, Robert; McDougall, Cameron; Presswell, Bronwen (2022). What’s in a name? Taxonomic and gender biases in the etymology of new species names [Dataset]. Dryad.


As our inventory of Earth’s biodiversity progresses, the number of species given a Latin binomial name is also growing. While the coining of species names is bound by rules, the sources of inspiration used by taxonomists are an eclectic mix. We investigated naming trends for nearly 2900 new species of parasitic helminths described in the past two decades. Our analysis indicates that the likelihood of new species being given names that convey some information about them (name derived from morphology, host, or locality of origin) or not (named after an eminent scientist, or for something else) depends on the higher taxonomic group to which the parasite or its host belongs. We also found a consistent gender bias among species named after eminent scientists, with male scientists being immortalised disproportionately more frequently than female scientists. Finally, we found that the tendency for taxonomists to name new species after a family member or close friend has increased over the past twenty years. We end by formulating recommendations for future species naming, aimed at honouring the diverse scientific community regardless of gender or ethnicity and avoiding etymological nepotism and cronyism, while still allowing for creativity in crafting new Latin species names.


Data were obtained from each new species description of trematodes, cestodes, monogeneans, nematodes, and acanthocephalans published between 2000 and 2020, inclusively, in the following 8 journals: Acta Parasitologica (data from 2000-2005 missing for this journal), Comparative ParasitologyFolia ParasitologicaJournal of HelminthologyJournal of ParasitologyParasitology InternationalParasitology Research, and Systematic Parasitology.