Vaulting Ambition

I used to think I’d enjoy a little time on a pedestal. A little recognition. That was before I realized that pedestals were designed to hold representations of the statuees after they’ve died. So I guess I’m really of two minds about it: love the remembrance, hate the death. If someone really wanted to remember me, I’d much rather they phoned me up and asked me out to dinner, or something.

But, the idea of a lasting memorial that doesn’t hint at any of the mortality issues is appealing, don’t you think? Something that, every time you saw it, would make you want to text me. I understand that in the grand scheme of things, this might be a tall order: I am neither admired nor sycophanted by a gaggle of acolytes, and I generally have a difficult time even getting Likes on Facebook, but I suppose you have to start somewhere, eh?

And sometimes, you have to compromise. I decided to settle for stuff being named after me. I made a preliminary foray into this field when I was twelve, I remember. I was in my explorer phase, and I decided to claim ownership to a large, partially exposed boulder located a short jump off a storm sewer that emptied into a river. Unfortunately, it was too small and hard to allow me to plant a flag, or anything, and I didn’t come from a family with a coat of arms, so I just wrote my name in chalk. Alas, in a preview of the coming climate change, my initials disappeared in the first heavy rain, along with the boulder.

Undeterred, and a year wiser, I carved my initials in a tree growing beside a bus stop shelter. I had visions of revisiting the tree from time to time with my children when I was old enough to go on dates, but the city cut it down after a branch broke and destroyed the roof. Immortality was hard to achieve for many of us in those days. So were dates.

As the years wore on, I named various things I did after my nickname, Gozzle, but to no avail -the names never caught on, despite their appeal. The Gozzle-roll, usually done on the ground and ending up with a unique side sprawl, is still known as a failed somersault in many circles, and the Gozzie-stumble isn’t even graced with a name except when I’m not around.

Too often Life is like the nameless person I pass on a trail -I recognize them, but that’s about it. Without a name, my greeting is hollow -full of sound and nuance yet signifying nothing -especially if their smile suggests they also forgot my name. We are ships that pass in the night with only a honk. Surely I’m not alone in this. Surely if they ambled by a statue of me walking the other way, they’d make it their business to remember me. Short of mandating name-tags, there must be a way of helping the forgetful among us to sort these things out.

I’d almost given up the quest until I came across an article in the Smithsonian: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-scientists-name-species-180968911 It talks about the identification of new species by adding a Latinized version of somebody’s name to the genus. ‘Scientists have been naming species in honour of celebrities since the 18th century. The father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, coined names to curry the favour (and open the purses) of rich patrons. These days, we usually do it to curry short-lived attention from the public by injecting a degree of attention-grabbing frivolity. Scaptia beyonceae is one example – so named because the fly in question has a shiny, golden bum.’

Honestly, I think this is not a good way to do science. After all, the naming of organisms is a serious business as the article points out. I’m sure the ‘taxonomists and biosystematists – the scientists who discover, name, classify and document the world’s living and fossil species’ would be taken more seriously if they didn’t go for the cutesy stuff, and chose earnest, thoughtful people more in line with what they were naming. I mean, how could anybody discuss a fly named after Beyoncé’s buttocks with a straight face at a staid academic conference? Mind you, I think I have nice ears and they might want to name a bat after me, or something. But that’s different. Right?

There’s certainly a need for new names. For example, in one country alone,  ‘Australia, including its shores and surrounding oceans, is home to more than 600,000 species of plants, animals, fungi, microbes and other organisms.’ And ‘… only 30 percent of Australia’s living species have been discovered, named and documented so far. That leaves more than 400,000 Australian species that we know absolutely nothing about.’ I think it’s only fair that I get dibs on at least one of those. And it doesn’t have to be about my ears, or my curly hair, although I should probably get a second interview for any new species that doesn’t go bald when it ages.
‘Taxonomists construct the framework that allows us to understand and document species and manage our knowledge of them. Such a framework is essential if we are to sustainably manage life on Earth. […] Without the understanding provided by taxonomists, we’re like the largest, most complex global corporation imaginable, trying to do business with no stock inventory and no real idea of what most of its products look like or do.’

But, I’m volunteering my name for posterity -sorry, for the job. Are they waiting for some beautiful talk-show host with large wings to enter her agnomen, or something? ‘A small example: there are an estimated 200 unnamed and largely unknown species of native Australian mosquitoes.’ I mean, they must have ears, because they’re hard to kill on the first slap.

And anyway, ‘[…] the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, has more than a dozen species named in his honor. No fewer than five of them are Australian. These include the brightly coloured slug-snail Attenborougharion rubicundus, and the fossil of the first known organism to give birth to live young, Materpiscis attenboroughi.’ No wonder we remember his name, eh?

There are plenty of organisms to go around, though -I don’t want any of his, or anything. And nothing slimy, or dangerous. No yuck factor -I want to be proud of whatever carries my name and maybe make it into a monogram for my tee shirts: something I can spell, or at least something I could carve on a cell wall in case I get arrested…

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