Dominik Berrens

CV and List of Publications


Field of Research: Naming
Naming newly discovered plants: Batatas, the potato. From: Jacques Daléchamps, Historia generalis Plantarum. Pars altera, Lyon 1586, p. 1910.

Giving new things and concepts names is an indispensable prerequisite of scientific progress. As a name establishes something as an object of scientific enquiry, what is named and how it is named decisively influences the course a discipline takes. In early modern science, names where overwhelmingly given in Latin, its only linguistic handicap, namely its weakness in word composition, being overcome with the help of Greek wordstems and composition. This was the greatest naming operation in human history up to this point. Its results are with us till today and are comparatively wellknown, if mainly because of and according to the practical needs of modern scientists (e.g. O.E. Nybakken, Greek and Latin in Scientific Terminology, Ames, IA 1959). By contrast, little research has been done on the process itself.

This sub-project will first analyse early modern theoretical reflections about naming, which were informed to a large degree by rhetorical concepts (e.g. metaphor, neologism) and humanist preoccupations (how far should unclassical words be tolerated?). Next, different techniques of naming and the reasons behind them will be examined: Was a preexisting word given a new meaning (neologism of sense) or was a new word formed (neologism of form)? Was a new name introduced tacitly or explicitly, by a "stipulative definition" (R. Robinson, Definition, Oxford 1950, 60)? Finally, three types of names of increasing generality and conceptual importance will be distinguished and separately analysed: first, the plethora of names for newly detected entities in areas such as natural history (including the systems, the nomenclatures, they formed); second, expressions such as technica ("technology") or gas ("gas"), introducing new notions which proved influential beyond the borders of any single discipline; third, meta-concepts such as inventio ("discovery") or experientia ("experience") which became cornerstones of the modern notion of science in the new meanings they acquired in early modern times and whose history has hitherto, despite their obvious Latin origin, mainly been studied with reference to the vernaculars (cf. Wootton, The Invention of Science. A New History of the Scientific Revolution, New York 2015, 251-428).