For years, people have been naming their pet animals—and their kids, in some cases—after pop icons they love. In the US, 370 people named their babies Khaleesi in 2016 in honour of Game of Thrones’ Mother of Dragons. I personally have a dream of someday owning a French Bulldog named Wario.
Scientists, too, are constantly naming newly discovered species after celebs. But these names might carry a little bit more weight: While a baby named Khaleesi can get older and decide to legally change her name, these scientific names go down in the history books forever. They shape the world around us. There’s the Agra schwarzeneggeri beetle named after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biceps, the Aleiodes shakirae wasp named after Shakira’s hip movements, and the list goes on (seriously, there are a lot).
Sure it’s cute when your neighbour shows off their new pug named Bob Barker, but how many species do scientists have to name after people they’ve seen on TV until someone stands up and says: No more?
A newly discovered spider named after Leonardo DiCaprio. Image: Agnarsson lab
Turns out, sometimes having a recognizable name attached to what might otherwise be an unremarkable little creature is the only way for these species to get widespread attention.
On Tuesday, researchers announced the discovery of 15 new species of spider in the Caribbean, and they named some of them after famous people including Bernie Sanders, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Michelle Obama.
Spider expert Ingi Agnarsson is a biology professor at the University of Vermont and lead researcher of the study, published in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. He told me that scientists who discover a new species can basically name it whatever they want. For example, lots of scientists name new species after either a past scientist or a loved one, although it’s frowned upon to name it after themselves.
“You have absolute freedom when you…