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Naming the Ethological Subject

  • Etienne S. Benson (a1)
Argument

In recent decades, through the work of Jane Goodall and other ethologists, the practice of giving personal names to nonhuman animals who are the subjects of scientific research has become associated with claims about animal personhood and scientific objectivity. While critics argue that such naming practices predispose the researcher toward anthropomorphism, supporters suggest that it sensitizes the researcher to individual differences and social relations. Both critics and supporters agree that naming tends to be associated with the recognition of individual animal rights. The history of the naming of research animals since the late nineteenth century shows, however, that the practice has served a variety of purposes, most of which have raised few ethical or epistemological concerns. Names have been used to identify research animals who play dual roles as pets, workers, or patients, to enhance their market value, and to facilitate their identification in the field. The multifaceted history of naming suggests both that the use of personal names by Goodall and others is less of a radical break with previous practices than it might first appear to be and that the use of personal names to recognize the individuality, sentience, or rights of nonhuman animals faces inherent limits and contradictions.

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