The lack of the Irish!

I love St Paddy’s Day.  I’m Scots-Irish-Australian, so I never drink (baddum-tish!), but I do like bangers and mash and all things gaelic.  In pondering how to celebrate on DSN, I considered a post of green fish, but that was just too easy.  Instead, I thought I’d present some fish with Irish patronyms.  So off I went to Irish Central to get a list of the top ten Irish last names, and thence to trusty Fishbase to sift through the expected avalanche of species named after Irish folks. Cos, like, Irish people are everywhere right?  They’ve spread across the globe like cultural dandelions, so presumably there’s lots of them in taxonomic circles, or at least prominent enough to get species named after them.  Cue wheels falling off…

Cirrhilabrus walshi

Out of the top ten Irish last names, which, if you’re interested, are Murphy, Kelly, O’Sullivan, Walsh, O’Brien, Byrne, Ryan, O’Connor, O’Neill and O’Reilly, I found just EIGHT species out of 28,000-ish in the Fishbase record, and that includes synonyms no longer in use.  Only two Irish names had more than one entry: Walsh, with the pretty Cirrhilabrus walshi and stunning (wah-wah!) electric ray Torpedo walshii (a synonym for T. nobiliana); and O’Connor, which had three cyprinids and a Galaxias.  That last one is of some coincidence.  Galaxias oconnori is a synonym for G. olidus, which was a topic of part of my PhD thesis and is quite common around where I grew up, in the Australian suburb of – yep – O’Connor.  The suburb is named after a former high court judge who died in 1912 and the fish was named the same year, so its possible that they are the same O’Connor, but I can’t get a hold of the original paper quick enough to remain relevant so for now it’s a mystery.

Galaxias olidus (oconnori)

So why aren’t there more fish with Irish names?  I honestly can’t tell you, except to say that I am pretty sure that patronyms in no way reflect the typical frequencies with which different last names occur in the population (and population WHERE?, I might add).  Some names are severely over-represented, for sure.  Consider Agassiz; there are at least 83 agassizi‘s – ten times more than the top ten  Irish names put together.  Ya gotta hand it to old Louis, he certainly made a mark!

 Happy St Paddy’s Day and Sláinte to all!

para_sight (138 Posts)

Dr. Alistair Dove is a systematic and ecological parasitologist by training, with broader research interests in the natural history and health of marine animals, especially whale sharks. He is currently Director of Research and Conservation at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta USA. His comments here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Georgia Aquarium





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5 comments on “The lack of the Irish!
    • Without picking on your uncle, that doesn’t make much sense. In the conventions of naming, the suffix -ensis is generally used to indicate a geographic place of origin. Photinus shiffmanensis would mean “firefly from (found in) Shiffman”. Typical ones would be australiensis, brasiliensis, canadensis and so on. Usually patronyms for males are latinised with a simple i, like shiffmani, and women with -ae, so your aunt’s firefly would be shiffmanae. Sure your uncle wasn’t pulling your leg?

    • Couldn’t find any fish no, but I did find a beetle called Aphytopus guinnessi. Wonder if that was named after the beer, or just a man named Guinness?

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