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November 13, 2006

Naming: Some People are Genetically Smurfy

HUGOThe (HUGO) has found that there are ten genes that have been offensively named and are "inappropriate, demeaning and pejorative." These include "LFNG – lunatic fringe homolog (Drosophila)" and “MFNG – manic fringe homolog (Drosophila)," as well as "IHH – Indian Hedgehog homolog (Drosophila)." They also include "headcase" and "one-eyed pinhead." Some gene names, I think, are drawing unnecessary flak: what's wrong with "tribbles" (the furry creatures from Star Trek) or "smurf" and "groucho"? As Dr. Chris Doe at University of Oregon points out, we are talking about names linked to human development — I suppose nobody wants to be known as a genetic "tribble." The Neurophilosopher has a list of very that will probably be changed sooner or later, and you can read an interesting article on the subject from JAMA Medical News (PDF file).

Scientists in other fields have been known to be a little careless when naming, leading to some interesting dilemmas. For instance, who can forget the outcry over the terms "master" and "slave" in reference to computer hardware? Los Angeles officials found last month that such terms are "unacceptable and offensive."

Library of CongressAnd certain other names are being phased out, according to Barbara Tillett, the chief of the the . The office is getting rid of the following terms and replacing them with more acceptable alternatives in their searches:


  • Australian aborigines to Aboriginal Australians (in 2003)
  • Cripples to Handicapped to People with disabilities (with the latter change in 2002)
  • Gypsies to Romanies (in 2001)
  • Negroes to Afro-Americans to African Americans (the latter change in 2000)
  • Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 to Vietnam War, 1961-1975 (2006)

Perhaps most troubling of all is the careless naming practices of some renegade insect researchers, who tried to name several new beetles after George Bush’s cabinet.

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Posted by William Lozito at November 13, 2006 1:37 PM
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1 Comment

I should have known you'd do a better job than me when it comes to naming. ;) Have added this link to my post.

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