Posted by: Kay at Suicyte | May 21, 2008

Gene Naming, Vanuatu style

A while ago, for reasons that I cannot remember, I ended up reading a post on the blog ‘mistersugar‘ by Anton Zuiker. Neither is the blog science-oriented, nor is this particular entry, dating from 2003 and entitled ‘Naming rights‘. It is interesting nevertheless, as it talks about various traditions of naming children in different cultures. One paragraph in particular caught my attention:

In Vanuatu, where I served with the Peace Corps, names proliferate. When a boy is born, his uncles on his father’s side each ‘put’ a name on the new child, with the father’s ‘tawian’ (eldest brother-in-law) choosing the child’s main name. A girl gets her names from the sisters of her mother and one of her mother’s sisters-in-law. As the child grows up in the village, each aunt or uncle addresses the child by the name he or she ‘put’ on the child. I found this to be a wonderful custom and loved the way that names became a connection to more than one family member.

Now, does this sound familiar? Maybe after a minor re-write?

In Genetics, where some Peace Corps action would come in handy, names proliferate. When a new gene is described, the researchers of the groups involved each ‘put’ a name on the new gene, with the gene’s ‘tawian’ (most highly-cited publication) choosing the genes’s main name. As the gene’s importance grows up in the literature, each researcher addresses the gene by the name he or she ‘put’ on the gene. I found this to be a wonderful custom and loved the way that names became a connection to more than one research group.

I am not so sure about the ‘wonderful’ quality of this custom, but at least it gives us a lot of names to choose from, e.g. BAFF/BLyS/CD257/TALL/TALL-1/THANK/UNQ401/ZTNF4/TNFSF20/TNFSF13B. Want more? How about TRAMP/APO3/DR3/DDR3/LARD/TR3/UNQ455/WSL/WSL-LR/LARD/AIR/TNFRSF25/TNFRSF12. TNF-like ligands and their receptors are really bad. The inhibitors are not much better: FLIP/CASH/CASP8AP1/CFLAR/CLARP/FLAME/I-FLICE/MRIT/Usurpin/Casper. And believe me, this was only a selection.



  1. Kay, thanks for commenting on my entry. You may have stumbled upon my blog because I organize an annual science blogging conference in North Carolina — next event, called ScienceOnline’09, is Jan 16-18, 2009. More details will be at, soon.

  2. Congratulations on the Nature paper, by the way. Are you going to talk about it here?

  3. @Anton: possible, but not very likely as I am living quite far away from NC. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your blog!

    @Ian: thanks! I must admit that my own contributtion to this work was rather minor. It might be a good idea to blog about the paper, thank you for the suggestion.

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