Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre

A lady came into the Palm Centre last week. She was looking for a particular palm for her husband but, she said, she couldn't pronounce the name 'because it was Latin'. A lot of people have a problem with this, not because Latin is difficult to pronounce but because they believe it to be. They see it as a foreign language and as such, they are frightened of it. I thought a few ground rules might help because, believe it or not, everyone can speak Latin, or at least, pronounce Latin names.

For a start, there are very few conventions in Latin. There are very few rules, and no 'accents'. It hasn't been spoken as a language for many hundreds of years, such a long time that in fact nobody knows the 'correct' way to pronounce it. Thus it could be argued that your particular pronunciation is as valid as anyone else's. If you want to pronounce 'Sabal' as 'Sable' or 'S'bal' or 'Saybal' there is absolutely nobody who has the right to tell you that you're wrong, because nobody really knows.

Gaining confidence already? Then consider this:
while French has its á, its é, its è, and its ç, while German has its ä, ß and ö, and while Swedish has its ø, å and ö, Latin has no such refinements, so there are no pitfalls, and nobody can criticise you because you don't know the difference between an ä and an å, because in Latin, they don't exist. Just say the words as they look and you can't go far wrong, because there IS no wrong! There are a very few ground rules: one is that 'ch' is generally pronounced with a bard sound as though it were 'k', (thus 'Kamaerops', 'Kamaedorea', 'Kuniophoenix' etc.,) unless the name is derived from French rather than Latin, in which case it is a soft 'sh' sound, thus 'Shambeyronia' which was named after a Monsieur Chambeyron, a French botanist. Beyond that there ain't much to know.

Let's take a few examples. Can you really say you can't pronounce 'Livistona'? Surely not! But a lot of people would rather stick with 'Chinese Fan palm' rather than take a chance. Try breaking the word down and you have three simple syllables:
'Liv'; 'is' and 'tonia'. Run them together and you are there! What could be easier? Even daunting names like the wonderful Johannesteijsmannia can be broken down in this way. Divide and rule! You can surely pronounce 'Johannes', just think of Johannes Brahms. 'Mannia' is straightforward enough too, it's just the bit in the middle that may confuse. Just say 'tays' and you're there: run the three together 'Johannes-tays-mannia', and you will be understood, at least by other palm folks, whether you are in Iceland or well Tasmania (not to be confused with Tays mannia of course).

Why do we have to bother with these Latin names at all? I am frequently asked For one sim ple reason you may think it s confusing but it s not half as confusing as common names when you think about it. Names such as Fan palm even Australian Fan palm or Cane palm or Bamboo palm or many other common names all refer to many different species if not in Europe then be yond There are a dozen Cane palms but there is only one Chamaedorea seifrizii There are bun dreds of Fan palms but there is only one Livis tona australis and as suggested above that will hold good wherever you are in the world, and whoever you are talking to.

Palm names are based on the Binomial (twoname) system, as are our own names, except they are round the other way, with family (actually 'genus') name first rather than last. Thus you could say that Trachycarpus fortunei equates to 'John Smith'. All the others in the genus keep the same 'surname' (Trachycarpus) but have different 'given' names: takil, martianus, nanus etc., in the same way that John Smith's brothers and sisters keep the same family name, Smith, but have individual given names. This is important because it shows and recognizes the link between family members, but allows them to be individuals too.

So that's the end of the lesson Don t be fright ened of scientific names they re really quite easy and quite harmless Sit down quietly with a palm book on y our own one time and have a little prac tise You'll find that with a little effort you'll soon be spouting Latin names with the best of them, and you'll enjoy the new precision.

And just think how useful it will be when you visit Latin America!! M.G.


  02-02-23 - 11:55GMT
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 Date: 24-05-2004

An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms
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