Naming rights

A recent Calvin and Hobbes re-run:

The general principle is that whoever discovers (or invents or even just promulgates) something has naming rights, and there are a number of circumstances in which these rights are recognized, though in some — the binomial nomenclature of biology, for instance — there are official bodies that oversee the naming.

It turns out that it’s not very common for someone to name a place, concrete object, idea, product, whatever after themselves, as Calvin and Hobbes both do in the cartoon; descriptive names are much more common, and even in the world of eponymy, naming in honor of someone or something is much more common than naming for oneself . In addition, when something is named after someone, the naming is often done by someone other than the originator.

A simple example, from the Wikipedia article on the Avogadro constant:

The Avogadro constant is named after the early 19th-century Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro, who, in 1811, first proposed that the volume of a gas (at a given pressure and temperature) is proportional to the number of atoms or molecules regardless of the nature of the gas. The French physicist Jean Perrin in 1909 proposed naming the constant in honor of Avogadro. Perrin won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physics, largely for his work in determining the Avogadro constant by several different methods

Avogadro stated the idea, and it did indeed get named after him, but not by him — instead, by Perrin, who developed the idea further.

A more entertaining example: Wikipedia on Van Diemen’s Land:

Van Diemen’s Land was the original name used by most Europeans for the island of Tasmania, now part of Australia.

… The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to land on the shores of Tasmania in 1642. Landing at Blackman’s Bay and later having the Dutch flag flown at North Bay, Tasman named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, in honour of Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, who had sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery.

… In 1856 the colony [of Van Diemen’s Land] was granted responsible self-government with its own representative parliament, and the name of the island and colony was officially changed to Tasmania on 1 January 1856.

Tasman European-discovered the place and named it after van Diemen, but eventually others (quite reasonably) named it after him.

On another note: it seems not to have occurred to Calvin and Hobbes that a stream around where they live would have been named long ago. But, of course, being a small child and a stuffed animal, they have no idea what its name is.

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