I was reading up on botanical taxonomy (an academic, if not snobby, way of saying the naming of plants) and, of course, spent a bit of time researching the life of Carolus Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who was responsible for developing the system for naming plants.
Here’s a picture of Linnaeus, copied from the Wikipedia writeup:
OK, so apart from the obvious question of whether he actually went to bed with hair curlers to get this look when he posed for his portrait the next morning, how come the signature in the top right of the painting is Linne, instead of Linnaeus?
Well, it’s a bit of irony, I think, that for someone who became such a fusspot about the accurate naming of plants, he had trouble deciding what his own name should be.
From what I can gather, he was born Carl Linnaeus. His father had been the first in the family to adopt the surname ‘Linnaeus’, because of his fondness for the Linden tree (one I share with him, by the way). Prior to that the Swedes had been using the ‘patronymic’ system of surnames.
When Linnaeus attended the University of Lund he was enrolled as Carolus Linnaeus, presumably because of the preoccupation with giving everything and everyone a latinized name – something Linnaeus himself practiced diligently with his system of plant taxonomy.
For much of his published work, he used the name Carolus Linnaeus, or the genitive version Caroli Linnaei. In 1757 the Swedish king granted Linnaeus nobility, as a reward for his remarkable work. After this, Linnaeus adopted the surname ‘von Linne’ – frequently using a shortened version when signing his works, ‘Carl Linne’. I’m guessing he got tired of all the latin – an experience I can relate to when I took latin in high school.
So, despite the apparent dithering on his own identity, Linnaeus went down in history as a genius (which we know he was) for creating a system of naming all plants with scientific precision.