Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #141

The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord, 2005

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2012-04-01

Anna Pavord's The Naming of Names sets the groundwork for the system of nomenclature we use so freely today. More than just names, this book chronicles the development of human understanding of plants, how they live and propagate, but most importantly how we've come to identify and categorized them.

While beginning in the classical period, the core of this story is set in the revival of science during the Renaissance, from about 1400 - 1700. Pavord treats her human subjects as protagonists in a story of the development of the science of botany, and while supported with excellent scholarship, the writing is also very passionate.

The last hero of her narrative is the English scholar and plantsman John Ray (1627-1705), who she credits with the invention of the discipline of taxonomy. "No fireworks, no claps of thunder, no swelling symphonic themes mark Ray's achievement. It is a quiet, lonely, dogged consummation, and, in its insistence on the importance of method before system, critical in shaping future thinking on the subject to which he had devoted the whole of his adult life."

Excerpted from the Spring 2012 Arboretum Bulletin.

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