Monday, January 31, 2011

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

                    -William Shakespeare
                    Romeo and Juliet

Inspiration can come from the strangest places can't it?  The inspiration for this post came from someone who, I'm sure, wasn't trying to sound condescending or annoy me.  He failed on both counts.  Maybe, despite his claim of 30 years of woodworking experience, he was just ignorant.  Maybe it was more along the lines of an elitist air of superiority.  Anyway, he didn't actually get under my skin quite as much as I have made it sound so far.  Just a mild irritant, the kind that makes you want to slap them just on principle.

So, just what am I rambling on about anyway, you ask?
Wood, of course.  As you may remember from a previous post, names of wood can be a little confusing sometimes.  First, there is the actual Latin name (listing genus and species).  Since most of us don't speak Latin, you don't see that used much.  Granted, that would be the most precise method of doing it, but what are the chances that we would actually learn all of those Latin names? Will people really remember that they prefer their furniture be made from Acer saccharum instead of Juglans nigra? And how many of you recognized those as hard maple and walnut?  Right.  I had to look it up myself. So we use common names like red and white oak, maple, and chestnut.  As we have already seen, that can have its own issues.  If you just say it is oak, the question is if it is red oak or white oak?  If it is walnut, is it American black walnut, English walnut, or Italian walnut? If American walnut, is it east or west?  Then there is mahogany.  As I noted earlier, the name mahogany can mean several different trees.  While almost all of them are related to each other in some way, there is at least one example that is not.  Philippine mahogany isn't related to the mahogany tree at all.  It just kind of looks like it.  It still gets called mahogany, but mahogany it technically is not.  That's just a common name that it gets sold as.  You may have already known that (and if you are a faithful reader, you did).  Did you ever wonder how many other examples like that there are though?  Well to tell the truth, I don't know.  This is partially because I'm still running into new examples of it myself and partially because you can also always run into regional variations.  Think of soft drinks.  On the east coast they are typically called soda.  In the midwest, it's pop.  Go down to the southern (perhaps more southeastern) states and it's Coke. 
  Thirsty Person: "I'll have a Coke."
  Vendor: "What kind of Coke do you want?"
  Thirsty Person: "Mountain Dew"
Then the CEO of Pepsi rolls over in his grave (and he ain't even dead yet).

 So just how common is this?
 Well, here's a non-exhaustive list: (Botanical name: common or trade names)
Brosimum, rubesces: Bloodwood, Satinae, Cardnalwood
Cordia spp.: Bocote, Anacahuite, Canalete, Cupane, Laurel, Peterbi, Salmwood, Siricote
Guibourtia spp.: Bubinga,  Essingang, Ovang, Kevazingo, Waka
Dalbergia retusa : Cocobolo,  Granadillo, Funera, Palo Negro, Nambar, Cocobolo Prieto.
Diospyros dendo: Gabon Ebony, Kayu Itam, Toetandu, Sora, Kayu Lotong, Black Ebony, Kayu Maitong
Diospyros celebica : Macassar Ebony, Kayu Itam, Toetandu, Sora, Kayu Lotong, Black Ebony, Kayu Maitong
Grevillea robusta : Lacewood, Southern Silky-Oak (Australia), Kawilia (Tanganyika)
Pterocarpus soyauxii: Padauk, Mbe, Mbil (Cameroon), Ngula, Bosulu (Zaire)
Peltogyne paniculata: Purpleheart,  Amaranth, Palo Morado, Morado, Tananeo, Pau Roxo, Guarabu, Violetwood.
Astronium graveolens: Goncalvo Alves, tigerwood, Brazilian Koa, zebrawood
Hymenaea courbaril: Jabota, Brazilian Cherry
Tabebuia Bignoniaceae: Ipe Brazil, Amapa, cortex, Guayacan, Flor Amarillo, Greenheart, Madera negra,       Tahuari, Lapacho negro, Ironwood™, Pau Lope™ , Brazilian Walnut
Millettia laurentii: Wenge,  Panga Panga, Dikela, African Rosewood, Congolese Rosewood, Faux Ebony,
Microberlinia: Zebrawood, Tigerwood, Zebrano, Zingana

Confused yet?  Then there is rosewood.  We will get to that another day.   So I guess the next question would be why all of the names?  Granted some of them are pretty obviously regional and probably specific to the dialect of the language of the region of the person talking about it (or at least the dialect of the person who sold it to the supplier).  Some you may notice have a common English name and a country, such as Brazilian cherry.  Where did that come from? It's not related to the American tree we call cherry. It tends to remind at least some people of cherry though.  So if you have this really nice hardwood to sell to the U.S. that nobody here has ever heard of, how would you describe it?  Perhaps by using a hardwood that it sort of resembles that people here are familiar with?  Then add your country's name to it so that people will know that it isn't quite the same thing?  I think that kind of makes sense from a marketing perspective.  The names do get messy though. So what is one to do? If the piece looks good and the wood has the properties to function sufficiently for the task at hand, how much does it really matter to you?