Bufo marinus Quandary

Okay, I’ve been dithering over this, and wistling has made it clear that readers will notice it too. So, I’m hoping to get some feedback from y’all.

The title of my current WIP is “Princess Bufo Marinus, I Call Her Amy.” Bufo marinus is the scientific name–genus and species–of a certain amphibian.

Here’s what’s got me in a tizzy:

– Scientific names should be written (in italics) with the genus name capitalized and the species name in lowercase.
– In titles of literary works, all words should be capitalized (except articles, short conjunctions, and short prepositions that are three or fewer letters long).

See my dilemma? Bufo Marinus versus Bufo marinus. I’m so confused.

48-day “SCI FICTION is closing” form note with a scribble from Ellen Datlow, “Sorry about the bad timing.”

New Words: 700 on the rewrite of “Princess Bufo Marinus, I call her Amy.”
Today: editing passes.

Club 100 For Writers


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12 Responses to Bufo marinus Quandary

  1. winters_edge says:

    First question in my quest to answer this: have you looked up Bufo marinus in the dictionary to see if it appears there? If it does, it won’t need to be italicized in the title. That may also help determine whether or not you need to adhere to the scientific rules, or the editing rules.

    • winters_edge says:

      Where I’m going, and why…

      The Chicago Manual of Style indicates that you need only italicize scientific names if they are uncommon enough not to appear in one of the better known dictionaries.

      Eugie’s right about the difference in how the scientific crowd would use capitals for the name, versus how a book or story would, and for scientific publications, capitals would be used in the manner expected by the crowd most expected to be reading the document. Another example of that use would be in law, where it is okay to use capitals for statutes, etc, that don’t actually require capitals by grammatical standards, but for publication purposes among the crowd using them most often for reference, they are used as deliniators- marking where one statute ends and another begins.

      She’s doing something really wonderful, but challenging to an editor, by chosing a title such as this. Going back to the first question of “is it a common name- common enough to be in the dictionary?” The answer to that question gives us the ability to negate all of the other problems caused by mixing the scientific and non-scientific world of writing, at which point, she may use capitals for her title in the traditional manner.

  2. sylphon says:

    Normally I’d go the scientific route but I think in this case if you do use the lowercase marinus, people are likely to “correct” it for you and assume you accidentally didn’t capitalize it.

    • I think I’d still go the scientific route, and trust that the italics will stop those who know scientific convention from changing the title, and hopefully at least give pause to those who don’t know scientific convention. A note to the editor probably couldn’t hurt, either.

  3. Based on examples I’ve seen over the years, specfic titles seem to be allowed to take a few liberties with standard title conventions, especially when necessary to accommodate scientific terminology.

  4. yukinooruoni says:

    I would say if science is a central part of your story, keep it to the scientific norm. If the name a hook, use the upper case.

  5. mouseferatu says:

    Point the first: The tradition of capitalizing all main words in a title already violates the rules of grammar, but it’s accepted. No reason it should be any different just because something happens to be a scientific term.

    Point the second: You’ll have far more people who know you got the rules of titling “wrong” than that you got the rules of scientific terminology “wrong.”

    In short, capitalize both. 🙂

    • gannet says:

      This is what I was going to say, only phrased differently, so I won’t write a needlessly long comment. (Also Stephen agrees with me, in case you want Yet Another Opinion.)

  6. arkady says:

    Personally I’d say scientific naming convention should take precedence over literary convention.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Normally, if I encounter genus species, I’d expect to see the first capitalized and the second not. It just looks right, I guess because it was pounded into my head in Taxonomy class.

    But, it looks wrong in a story title. And honestly, this scientist just isn’t that anal. So, I vote for capitalizing both.

    Pat Kirby

  8. dream_wind says:

    what’s wrong with “The Critter’s Name is Amy”?

  9. mrockwell says:

    Your comment section wasn’t loading when I posted my poll response…I think you should truncate the title to “I Call Her Amy”, and get the Princess Bufo marinus part in in the text.

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