Thursday, February 21, 2013

Binomial nomenclature

Butter and Eggs

This flower is butter and eggs, it is also called yellow toadflax Linaria vulgaris. It is yellow with a spot of orange - it supposedly grows to 3 feet tall, but I have seldom seen it reach to even 1 foot. It flowers from late May into early October. It is an escape from gardens and is not native to the United States. It is native to the Mediterranean region of Eurasia. It is named to honor Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778), the Swedish botanist, who devised the modern system of binomial nomenclature.

Binomial nomenclature is used to give a "scientific name" to plants and later to animals as well.  It consists of two names, making it much like the naming of people today.  The first part of the name is the identifies the genus. The second part of the name, identifies the species within the genus.  One would think that being a scientific name it would tell you something about the plant, but it doesn't.  Linnaeus's trivial names introduced an important new idea. The function of a name could simply be to give a species a unique label. The plant's name could be descriptive of the plant, but does not need to be. Both parts of the name could be derived from the names of people, places or anything at all.

While there may be several advantages of the binomial name, the most important is a unique label specific to each plant.  It makes no difference what the common name of the plant may be, or how many different names it is known by, the binomial name is its official name. A plant, like the one pictured above is called by at least two common names, but it has only one specific binomial name.  This allows scientists and plant enthusiasts to know exactly what plant they are referring to when using that name.

Dr. Charley King, my botany and ecology professor, was a fan of binomial nomenclature.  He found it quite a benefit when talking about a specific plant to students, scientists and professors from other countries. As his students, we required to learn the binomial names for all of the we studied. There were a couple of names I thought were quite memorable: Liquidambar styraciflua, and Metasequoia glyptostroboides. I thought of working them into names for our two children, but for some reason my wife thought that was not very appropriate.

Even though Charley thought the binomial names were appropriate for identification, he said that was their only purpose.  The names were just a "handle."  Just because you knew their name, did not mean you know the plant.  We were told to look closely at the plants. "Put your eyes at the ends of your fingers" – get close to the plants, touch them, observe them, smell them.  Learn to know where they grow, how they grow, what they like, what they don't like, do they flower, do they have seeds, how are the seeds dispersed, and on and on.  Placing a name on something does not mean that you know it.  It is just a label.

Once again we see that the biblical way to name a person, place or thing is much more meaningful:

A few names of places:

 Jacob wrestles with God...Jacob then named the place Peniel,  “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “and I have been delivered.”   Genesis 32:20 

So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.  Genesis 35:15 - Bethel means House of God

So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord.  Exodus 17:7  Massah means testing, Meribah means arguing.

So that place was named Taberah,   because the Lord’s fire had blazed among them.    Numbers 11:3  Taberah means blaze.

David became angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 2 Samuel 6:8   Perez-uzzah means - outburst against Uzzah or breach of Uzzah

Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son as commanded by God but that was never God's intention so He intervenes...
Abraham looked up and saw a ram  caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide,  so today it is said: “It will be provided  on the Lord’s mountain.”  Genesis 22:14  Yahweh-Yireh (one of the many names for God - God the provider)

There are numerous names for our God in the Bible.  Each name concentrates on individual characteristics of God.  I hope we can look at them some time in the future.

I hope that this brief look at the naming of people and places in the Bible will encourage you to look more closely at the names. It can be quite exciting to look up the meaning or reason for the names you come across in your daily reading of the Bible.  There may not always be a special meaning or purpose for the names, but do not be surprised if there is. Those names reinforce the fact of the sovereignty of our God. Remember God knew them and us before we were born.  He could name us because he knew us.  Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. Psalm 139:16

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