After I heard some species of slime mold beetle were named after Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, are scientists really allowed to name their discoveries after anything they want?
In theory yes, the first descriptor(s) of any species has priority over it's naming...
In practice it is another story: there are manuals that dictate the naming of species, and to my knowledge the only rules that limit the names you may use are:
International code of Zoological nomenclature, appendix A:
4. No author should propose a name that, to his or her knowledge or reasonable belief, would be likely to give offence on any grounds.
6. Editors and others responsible for the publication of zoological papers should avoid publishing any material which appears to them to contain a breach of the above principles.
7. The observation of these principles is a matter for the proper feelings and conscience of individual zoologists, and the Commission is not empowered to investigate or rule upon alleged breaches of them.
Therefore, while doing something like "L. evangelium
" is possible (naming it based on something you like) it has to be popular enough for it to be plausible. Extra points if there is some (even obscure) relation between the organism and the choosen name, like "Spongiforma squarepantsii"
, a sea sponge named after Sponge Bob. Something like "chocolate-ice-creamii
" will probably not do unless it is something that genuinely looks like chocolate ice cream.
A celebrity, yes, assuming he/she is an actual celebrity, regardless of why he/she is a celebrity. The Bobbit worm for example, was simply was hype at the time. There is a fern genus named Gaga (for Lady Gaga) because the authors liked her and because the DNA bases spelled GAGA, so, double points.
When it comes to people there are some aspects to consider: in the good ol' days of exploration (1700-1800), naming conventions were a bit more lax, so species described then may be named after obscure people that in some cases, only the researcher knew and that were not affiliated in any way to science. On the other hand, Linnaeus himself named one stink bug after one of his critics. Those examples in particular are frowned down (and forbidden) nowadays.
An extreme example would be discovering a blue flower with white spots: you may want to go for "Lewinskii
", althougth you would find it pretty hard to pull off (co-authors, revisors, editors) and even then, would be very distasteful...
Generally, when you choose a person, authors tend to go for famous researchers in their respective fields, so popular scientists are likely to have a genus/species named after them after they die (or if you are really good and famous and respected, while you live!)
Scientist are also more or less divided regarding using names like "Gaga
" and "S. squarepantsii
", some say it trivializes science and makes it some kind of a joke, some say that it gets people's attention and curiosity towards it -something scientist struggle to do-.