Earlier this month, scientists announced that they had reconstructed the anatomy and the appearance of the earliest ancestor of every mammal now living — including us. It’s a four-legged shrew kind of creature that looks, in an artist’s drawing, like a cross between a mole and a squirrel with a monkey’s long tail. It’s pretty cute.
But it doesn’t have an official name. The best option right now is to call it the “hypothetical placental mammal,” which doesn’t really have much of a ring to it. Radiolab explains:
You see, scientists are actually not allowed to give it an official, Latin name (such as Homo sapien, the Latin alias for humans). Why? Because so far this ancestor of ours exists only as a drawing. We haven’t found any fossils of it. Instead, the team of researchers re-created it by crunching a whole lot of data, and then collaborating with an artist to show us what it looked like.
So Radiolab and the American Museum of Natural History are teaming up to give our collective ancestor a better identity — not an official, scientific name, but a nickname. And they’re looking for suggestions:
What are we (and the AMNHers and scientists who are picking the finalists) looking for in a nickname? Something that does for this shrew doppelgänger what Lucy did for Australopithecus. We need to transform this placenta mammal the way “King Tut” helped “Heru Nebu: Wetches Khau Sehotep Neteru” (“He who Wears the Crowns and Satisfies the Gods”) become a household name. The way Jay-Z reinvented Sean Carter. A name that lives somewhere between dog and Fido; the former is a label for an entire species, the latter is a fun handle that’s become shorthand for “cuddly canine friend.”
We need something light, snappy, sweet; something that’ll earn this little guy respect both in the halls of academia and on the street. A nickname to stand the test of time.
What do you name a shrew that is also your ancestor? (“Grandma”? ZING.) We’ve got a few ideas:
- H-Pla: “Hypothetical placental mammal” is obviously a mouthful, but why not go with a J-Lo construction? Alternately, “Hypothetical P” sounds like a pretty good DJ name.
- Lammam Latnecalp: For reasons we will never understand, people are still naming their kids “Nevaeh” and other Super-Unique backwards names. “Placental mammal” backwards just happens to sound like a comic book villain, which puts it miles ahead.
- Jezebel: You want an ancient shrew? It doesn’t get ancienter or more shrewish.
- Bob: It just looks like a Bob.
The Naming of the Shrew, Radiolab.