The Voltage Gate

In March of this year, to the amusement of my friends, my brother convinced me to start playing World of Warcraft (WoW) with him. Since I left the Baltimore/Washington DC area four years ago, I’ve only had a few chances to see him per year, mostly on holidays or on vacation, and he pitched it to me as a way for us to interact weekly without having to travel. The two of us grew up casually playing video games together, starting with Combat on the Atari 2600, so naturally the idea was immediately appealing. I bought the software, registered and hopped on his server. We’ve been playing ever since. (I have a level 70 BM Hunter, 41/20/0, and a level 65 Elemental Shaman, 41/0/15.)

About a month ago or so, we were looking for more people on our way to a five-man dungeon (Arcatraz or Botanica, I think) and a priest named Empidonax joined our party. I mentioned something to her about recognizing her name as a genus of passerine (I couldn’t remember specifically), and she said that I was the only one that had gotten that close. Empidonax, in fact, is a genus of flycatcher.

It made me wonder. How many other folks playing WoW (it has nine million subscribers or more) decide to name their character (toon) after scientific names for certain organisms?

I hit the WoW Armory, a database of character information pulled directly from the game servers, and started looking up random genus names. I was not surprised that the genus names of animals with a more ferocious reputation were used by players, but there were some obscure references that could only have come from someone with more than just a passing interest in biology, and often these names can be found on dozens of servers (for obvious reasons, you can’t have more than one Empidonax on a server, but there are several Empidonax’s spread across many servers).

These names and the organisms they represent obviously mean enough to people to have their avatars named after them. It says something about the meaning nature holds for us, and I’d like to find a way to honor their choice.

So here’s the plan: Periodically, I’d like to highlight someone’s WoW toon named after the genus designation of an organism (I’m sure animals are much more popular than bacteria, plants or fungi, but we’ll see) and then find an image of a representative of that genus, as well as provide a quick perspective – historical, descriptive, evolutionary, ecological, etc. – on the organism in the spotlight. I don’t really expect it, but I would love to eventually have submissions from the players themselves describing why exactly the genus name was appealing to them, and perhaps a nice screenshot of their toon as well. Based on my initial search, I don’t think I’ll be running out of material anytime soon.

We’ll start up tomorrow with Empidonax, specifically the Willow Flycatcher. Pass the word along, if you would. Hopefully OLGA doesn’t come after me…


  1. #1 Laelaps
    October 31, 2007

    I like it. I actually had a character (surprise, surprise) named Lycaon, but I haven’t played in about a year as WoW fried the video card on my old computer and my current PoS laptop won’t run the game. Maybe someday I’ll come back on, but probably not anytime soon.

  2. #2 Evan
    October 31, 2007

    Sounds like a fun project! Most of my toons are named from obscure mythological references, Mabinogi and Pryderi being the most played. Sometimes I run across a name that displays some intelligence. A lot of times I see childish sentence-names. Which are technically not supposed to be allowed according to the ToS.

  3. #3 Chris
    October 31, 2007

    With so many names taken on WoW servers, it only makes sense to bust out the obscure taxonomy. In desperation, I named my shaman Gdel. But because of the Umlaut no one could actually type my name :/

  4. #4 Alex Taldren
    October 31, 2007

    The AT Wire will be sure to spread the word. Great idea, too!

  5. #5 Amy
    October 31, 2007

    I don’t play WoW, but I’ve used Nanoarchaeum (or variations) as a username on occasion.

  6. #6 Rebecca
    November 1, 2007

    I’ve been using the name “Nyctanessa” as my online handle for about four years now. It’s the genus name of the yellow crested night heron (though I’ve seen it spelled two different ways: Nyctanessa and Nyctanassa.. I went with the one that flowed better in my opinion), and have christened my blood elf warlock with the name, as well.

  7. #7 josh
    November 1, 2007

    My character’s name is Mandragora – named for the genus of mandrake plants (and a demon in paradise lost). Seemed like a good name for a blood elf warlock (durotan server).

  8. #8 Rhodo
    November 1, 2007

    OK, I’ll throw in a few of mine and try to get pictures up for ya. In the meantime here are their Armory links. :)

    Rhodo was my first genus named character. I happened to be looking out the window at the time, and I’ve got said bush right outside the window.

    My SO has this one:

    Sort of a sisterly thing. :)

    Too bad you weren’t looking for Family names. My new Undead Priestlet is named Liliacea. :)

  9. #9 Rob
    November 1, 2007

    I have a Night Elf Hunter called Syzygium – the genus (i think – /em is not a biologist! :) ) name for Lilypily plants…

    I liked the sound of it when I heard it on TV and ran with it :)

  10. #10 Christine D.
    November 1, 2007

    I read about your plan from WoW Insider and I was very amused!

    When I was choosing a name for my Gnome Warlock, I wanted to name it after the goldfish’s scientific name. It was Carassius auratus, but I just kept the Auratus part. Golden, baby! I currently play with that character on Kel’Thuzad, but I also have a Blood Elf Hunter on Eitrigg named Thylacinus, after Thylacinus cynocephalus or Tasmanian tiger.

    Goldfish because I thought that it was funny (but golden sounds pretty cool) and Tasmanian tiger because it was an interesting animal.

  11. #11 Dennis K.
    November 2, 2007

    I sell fish and reptiles for a living…

    My shaman main is Muraenidae (after the moray eel genus)

    My warlock is Volitans (after Pterois volitans, the lionfish)

    My shadow priest is Theraphosa (of theraphosa leblondi, more popularly known as the Goliath Bird Eater, largest tarantula in the world

    My happy shiny night elf priest is Amphiprion (Amphiprion ocellaris is the false percula clownfish, aka anenomefish, aka ‘Nemo’)

    My rogue is Trichogaster (after trichogaster trichopteris, the neon blue dwarf gourami!)

    Lastly, my warrior is Geophagus (after the Geophagus spp. cichlids of South America- he bites the dust enough, earth eater indeed!)

    Very happy to know I’m not the only one who draws on taxonomic sources for character names… 😀

  12. #12 Athaliana
    November 2, 2007


    My druid is named Athaliana, after Arabidopsis thaliana, a type of plant commonly used in genetics.
    Info about A. thaliana can be found here:

    A few plant geneticists have noticed the reference =)

  13. #13 Teri
    November 2, 2007

    One of my characters (on the Sentinels server) is named Latrodecta, after the black widow spider. She’s an undead rogue who used to be known as Theda (after Theda Bara, also, an anagram for Death) but during a move between servers that name was taken so I had to come up with something else quick. I figured that a black widow would be appropriate, considering the nature of the rogue.

    I’ve hardly played her since then, actually- I’ve found other character classes I enjoy more.

  14. #14 Mark
    November 2, 2007

    So I don’t know if you’re going to prefer level 70 charcters, but my second of two alts is a Dranei shaman named Amphiprion.
    My main and my first alt are both named with rather obscure references to the band Phish (Axillaii, and Schvice), but for my last alt, I decided to go with something related to my career, which is aquaculture (different kind of fish, natch). I manage a team of people that cultures and maintains zebrafish for use in biomedical and genetic research and I own a company that breeds tropical fish to sell to pet stores. So I picked a squid-like Dranei and named him after our biggest seller, the false percula clownfish. So far, I haven’t been recognized, but he’s only level 20.

  15. #15 Alexis
    November 2, 2007

    After reading “Beautiful Swimmers”, I decided to represent my Maryland heritage by naming my undead priest Sapidus (species name, but still pretty close). I also liked the irony of naming an individual with the cannibalize racial ability “savory”…Unfortunately, I haven’t played her in a while, but she’s still acting as a bank for my mains until I can give her some love.

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