Elfortania is a group of drawings inspired by the puzzling anagrammatic nomenclature of 19th century British naturalist William Elford Leach (1791-1836).
In 1818, the Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelle in France published Leach’s first entries on Crustacea. Amongst these descriptions was a “tantalizing puzzle for posterity.” In his entry, Leach named nine new genera of parasitic isopods, each name created from anagrams of ‘Caroline’ or ‘Carolina’.1 These genera were Anilocra, Canolira, Cirolana, Conilera, Lironeca,2 Nelocira, Nerocila, Olencira, and Rocinela.
But who was Caroline?
There are no known relationships between Elford Leach and any Caroline; he was not married and his closest female relative was his sister, Jenny. Arguments have been made that the anagram was inspired by Queen Caroline, astronomer Caroline Herschel, or an unknown mistress. 3 It has even been suggested that there was no Caroline at all and that it was a nonsensical combination and rearrangement of vowels and consonants.4 However, Leach’s biographer, Keith Harrison has dismissed this as too improbable because of the very deliberate way in which the names were created. 5
The mystery of Leach’s anagram has fascinated people for nearly two hundred years. Subsequent authors, charmed by the puzzle, have even continued in Leach’s footsteps and created names for genera with new anagrams of ‘Caroline’. Names have included Renocila (Miers, 1880), Corilana (Kossman, 1880), Alcirona (Hansen, 1890), Lanocira (Hansen, 1890), Nalicora (Moore, 1902), Orcilana (Nierstrasz, 1931), Creniola (Bruce, 1987) and Norileca (Bruce, 1990).6 I was intrigued by this puzzle and decided to do my own research, thinking that I may uncover some as yet unknown Caroline.
In my studies, though, I did not discover any truly convincing examples of Carolines in Leach’s life and I was beginning to agree that, “The search, without further evidence, is too difficult. Perhaps from [this] distance we shall never know who Elford Leach’s Caroline was or why she was so important to him….” 7 However, I was rather discontent with that
conclusion. I began to wonder if there was indeed no ‘Caroline’, but that the names were still intentional anagrams of someone or something else. Elfortiana is the culmination of my research.
This series of drawings includes examples of the nine genera and illustrates the existing suggestions about Leach’s names and my own new theories. I feel that the overwhelming general opinion that the genera are anagrams of a woman named ‘Caroline’ or ‘Carolina’ is too narrow a view. As an anagram, the possibilities are almost innumerable. With Leach’s dedication to his work and zoological research, it seems entirely more reasonable for the anagram to be derived from natural history or to at least follow similar patterns found in his other names. 8
Existing theories include three Carolines for the origin of the anagrams: Caroline of Brunswick, Caroline Herschel, and Caroline Clift. With this project, I am putting forth nine new possibilities for the sources of the names: Cornelia, Caroli Linneaus,9 Lonicera,10 Craniola, Carniola, Coraline, Carolina, Cerniola, and Arenicola.11 As a series of drawings, I wanted these pieces to capture the conjectural nature of the suggestions as well as respond to the visual culture that the images were drawn from: books and illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries.
2 Unfortunately the printer misread his handwriting for the last name and it was published as Livoneca. “In the archives of the Linnaean Society in London there is an English
version of the French text, written in Elford’s hand, in which he has clearly used the form ‘Lironeca’ and in the reprint he gave Latreille he corrected ‘Livoneca / Livonèce’
to ‘Lironeca / Lironèce’ several times. Similarly in his earlier entry for the Dictionnaire, “Crustacés’, in which a French form appears, this is printed ‘Lironecée’. The International
Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has nevertheless determined ‘Livoneca’ must be the name used for this genus. In his unpublished manuscripts, he had also used
the name Cilonera.” Ibid. (Note 116, p.402)
3 There is no evidence of Leach having a mistress. Also, considering his dedication to research, his duties at the Museum, and his constant writing for publications, it would
4 The random ordering of pleasing consonants and vowels was suggested by Thomas Stebbing in 1893.
5 In 1900, Reverend Knight investigated these issues and discovered the possible sources of the names: the Biblical town of Azeka and a “great oriental scholar”, Assemani.
In reviewing dozens more of Leach’s names, he also concluded that Leach seemed to have a special fondness for geographical terms and names derived from persons -
many with biblical or oriental connection. Journal of Conchology, Vol. 9, No. 9, January 1900.
7 Ibid. p.403. Further proof that the names continue to stir interest in the zoological community can be found in a 1994 article written by Ernest H. Williams, Jr. and
Thomas E. Bowman in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. In this article, they defended the original spelling of Lironeca and requested that the International
Commission on Zoological Nomenclature “use its plenary power to rule that Livoneca is an incorrect original spelling of Lironeca”. p. 225
8 William Elford Leach expressed his general policy for the creation of new names in the introduction to his book on mollusks (published posthumously).
Respecting the names that I have given to what I consider distinct genera, I have always invariably named the genera, as far as possible, from their essential characters; except only when I have perceived that the names of the parts constituting a generic distinction might probably be equally applied to some other genus not yet discovered…Where I have not been enabled to find sufficient and certain essential characters, I have followed the rule laid down by Fabricius, the first naturalist who attempted to form a natural arrangement of Insects, - Nomina generica nil significantia omnino optima;” [Generic names signifying nothing are altogether best] and as far as possible I have selected,
according to the rule laid down by the same author, that “Nomina Barbara nullo modo sunt toleranda” [barbarous names by no means are tolerable.
This policy explains to some extent his tendency to name genera after people and his usage of anagrams, neither of which signify anything in descriptive terms. However, even with a written declaration of his nomenclature policies, he did not always follow them. Some examples include frivolous and humorous names such as Labia minor for a species of earwig and Oxyrhynchus deliciosus for a species of fish which had “flesh…of the most exquisite flavor.” By the time Leach was preparing his work on mollusks, he had already created over 600 new names, so he may have had to search for more obscure and less meaningful sources of inspiration to keep to the policy stated above.
9 Carl Linnaeus is known as the father of modern taxonomy. During his career as botanist, physician and zoologist, he published the works that would lay the foundations for the modern system of binomial nomenclature.The first edition of his famous Systema Naturae was a small, twelve-page pamphlet printed in 1735. Subsequent editions
expanded in scope and size. In its tenth edition, published in 1758, Linnaeus classified thousands of species of animals and plants. The cumbersome and mostly trinomial names used at the time were replaced with more concise binomials, which consisted of a generic name and a specific name (genus and species). Many naturalists during Leach’s time were strict followers of Linnaean methods. Elford however disliked Linnaeus’s ‘artificial’ groupings of animals and preferred to reorganize them along ‘natural’ lines. He even once described Linnaeus as ‘the immortal author of the misnamed Systema Naturae.” The Elfortania drawing is taken from the frontispiece of the tenth edition of Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae. In this frontispiece, the author’s name is spelled as Caroli Linnæi. Perhaps Elford Leach did take into consideration the unpleasant parasitic nature of the isopods he named and used an anagram based on Linnaeus, to show his disapproval. The æ ligature common in Linnaeus’s name also adds to this interesting idea – as Leach’s anagrams utilize both an ‘a’ and an ‘e’ (Caroline/Carolina).
10 Lonicera is the genus name for the group of plants commonly called Honeysuckles. This name was given by Linnaeus in honor of Adam Lonicer, a 16th century German botanist. Lonicera itself can be an anagram of ‘Caroline’, but what interest or knowledge would a zoologist like Elford Leach have in honeysuckle? The connection I discovered comes through a moth, the Alucita hexadactyla. This is only species of Alucita that can be found in Great Britain and its larvae feed on honeysuckle. The Alucita hexadactyla belongs to the family of moths called Alucitidae, the name which Elford Leach introduced in 1815.There is the possibility that Leach used a random anagram of Lonicera for his isopods.
11 Arenicola marina, commonly called the lugworm or sandworm, is a marine, burrow-dwelling worm. Lugworms ingest sediment while in the burrow, leaving a depression on the surface sand. Once the sediment is stripped of its useful organic content it is expelled, producing the characteristic worm cast found on beaches.The name Arenicola basically means ‘sand-dweller’ – from the Latin arenarius, pertaining to sand, and the suffix –cola meaning dweller or inhabitant. It was originally named Lumbricus marinus by Linnaeus in 1758, but the generic name was changed to Arenicola by Lamarck in 1801. Elford Leach named two species of lugworms in 1816 – Arenicola tinctoria and Arenicola carbonaria.
However both of these turned out to be variants of the original Arenicola marina and are not currently accepted names.The term Arenicola was obviously known to Leach and his “Caroline/Carolina” anagrams may have been derived from it. The letters in Arenicola contain both an ‘e’ and two ‘a’s, encapsulating both ‘Caroline’ and ‘Carolina’ in one word.