This question is derived from another one posted in the Spanish Language site. In the original question OP was asking about the meaning of the word onava. We have not been able to find such word in any Spanish dictionary.

But I've found a variaty of plant named Ehretia onava. I think that due to taxonomy rules species are identified using Latin terms. Is there any chance that "onava" exists in Latin?

I've also found the word "onava" in an old Spanish book but its contents are not fully available. It says something about "la onava Esfera" (the onava Sphere). I have got a hunch that onava may be related to novena (Spanish word for nona/ninth).

1 Answer 1


The abbreviation A.DC. behind the name stands for the botanist Alphonse de Candolle, who introduced this name. (Famous botanists who created lots of scientific names usually get cited with an abbreviation, which is actually a great honour. Lists for decoding the abbreviations are easily found, e.g. on Wikipedia.) He is probably the best person to ask what it stands for. The name (some googling tells us) occurs in his work Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis (Draft for a natural system of the plant kingdom), volume 9, page 511, where we find:

Nomen specif. a vernaculo.

... which means, as you will have guessed: Species name [i.e., the second part of the name] from the vernacular. Which vernacular? That is nor quite clear to me, but according to him, the plant is found in Philippinis, so it stands to reason that it is some indigenous language from the Philippines; it may be a local Spanish word as well, though.

While scientific names of organisms are indeed based on Latin, the actual names are often very thinly or haphazardly latinized names of places, or of people honoured that way, or words from other languages. There are also puns, like Wollemia nobilis, named after its discoverer, a park ranger named David Noble.

That said, proper Latin words like in Ehritia formosa (beautiful) also occur, and even perfectly good Latin expressions like Fagus lucida, but they are rare.

  • Though a good answer, I'd dispute "Ehritia formosa" being proper Latin, specifically due to "Ehret" becoming "Ehritia", the morpheme "VhrV isn't quite Latin.
    – Elederete
    Commented Jun 11 at 12:30

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