What IS that called?

Nomenclature is “the devising or choosing of names for things, especially in a science or other discipline.” Also, “the term or terms applied to someone or something.” For example, “Customers” was preferred to the original nomenclature “passengers.”

I think a lot about what you call things, groups, and places and how difficult it is to change verbiage, especially when you get older. In the late 1960s, one of grandma Williams’ other grandchildren used to harass her when she referred to “colored” people. The child would say, “What color ARE you?” My grandma would sheepishly say, “Black.”

It’s challenging to change those brain synapses. Grandma Williams also used to call stores by their previous names, which they had not been called for over a decade.

I have become my grandmother. There’s a restaurant in Albany less than a block from where I lived in the mid-1980s. I went there at least six times annually for about five years. It changed ownership and name in 2017. I had been there once before, pre-pandemic. Yet it took me five minutes and a movie mnemonic to summon the new name.

What we call people

Three of my friends have children whose pronouns have changed. At least two of them have periodic trouble remembering, which is understandable. The real issue is how patient the child is with the parent, which sometimes is not so much.

I have an acquaintance of about 40 who changed their name and pronouns. The pronoun was no big deal to me, but the new name? I can’t get it into the brain. But because this person is older, they’ve shown grace in understanding that change is difficult to absorb.

Mental retardation is now an intellectual disability; there are now several preferred terms for people with disabilities. And I try to adhere to all of them, but sometimes, I forget.

The gender-neutral terms in employment, such as flight attendant, police officer, and firefighter, seemed so evident that it gave me almost no difficulty.


Somehow, place changes have been easier for me, perhaps because I don’t use them that often. It was no big deal when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, or Southern Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe. Peking is now Beijing, Bombay is now Mumbai; no prob. Until 2022, I had no idea Kiev should be Kyiv, but the transition wasn’t difficult.

How are you with changes in nomenclature?

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “Nomenclature”

  1. Heh. My big “nomenclature” challenges recently have been me reteaching myself systematic botany in order to teach it. Some of the uncommon plants are ones I first learned 30 years ago and then didn’t think about again. And now – they have different scientific names because either DNA analysis (not possible when I first learned them) have shown they’re related to another group, or a publication of an older (and therefore: priority) name was found.

    What’s more frustrating is that different sources give different names and affiliations for some plants. I suppose it frustrates my students, too, and I sometimes have to accept alternative names and affiliations on exams.

  2. I actually do have trouble with names of places, mainly because I learned them so rigorously in my youth (big fan of maps!) and because they change … not so frequently, but more frequently than I can keep up, especially because I don’t hear about them regularly. It’s not really a problem once I know about it, but discovering that Bombay is Mumbai, for instance, is the hard part for me.

  3. Changes in nomenclature don’t bother me, outside of a brief bit of confusion when I first encounter it. A good example was the 2006 Winter Olympics in “Torino”; I was like, where’s Torino? I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize it was “Turin”. Ditto Mumbai, which was “Bombay” for me growing up. But really, calling something what the locals prefer to call it makes sense to me. I’ve thought this for years, all the way back to when we moved to NY from Oregon; locals there pronounce that state to rhyme with “organ”, while locals HERE kept saying “Ore-GONE”.

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