Friday, February 25, 2005

What's in a name

My one stalk of corn is as high as a (baby) elephant's eye, and a few little ears are taking shape. I attend its development religiously.

Corn was domesticated in Mexico almost ten thousand years ago, from a large grass of the open woodlands called teosinte. The plant is called maize everywhere except the US, from the name used in the West Indies at the time of Columbus. I have an urge to give my corn plant its own name, but what? We have no tradition of naming individual plants, not even domesticated plants, not in the way we name domesticated animals. Fido doesn't quite work for corn.

Biologically, I am kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, class Mammalia, order Primates, family Hominidae, genus Homo, species H. sapiens, to which I eagerly assert my individuality by adding surname Raymo, given name Chet. Corn is Plantae, Anthophyta, Monocotyledonae, Commelinales, Poaceae, Zea, Z. mays, and that's the end of the line. One corn plant is the same as any other.

Here in the Bahamas they take naming seriously. Start with a bunch of syllables -- for "girlbabies," la, de, kera, meka, nique, tika, neisha, essa, and so on -- and combine them in any order. Thus: Dekera, Laneisha, Shakera, Shaquania, ad infinitum, biological nomenclature as various as the individual DNA.