Adakisme, Dolikisme: the Kirkaldy connection
There is a playful but enigmatic passage at a very important point in Ada, 1.22: 141.14-16: “There was a well-known microlepidopterist who, having run out of Latin and Greek names, created such nomenclatorial items as Marykisme, Adakisme, Ohkisme. She did.”
No specific interpretation was given to this sentence by any of the commentators. Brian Boyd (“Annotations to Ada”, The Nabokovian, 2004, 52: 62-63) notes that it is a play on “-kiss me,” and that taxonomic names indeed do not have to be based on strictly Latin terms.
However, these three “nomenclatorial items” do have a direct, hidden source. This story, or rather an Edwardian entomological pun, still circulates on the fringes of the taxonomic crowd (see, for example, May R. Berenbaum. Buzzwords: A Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll, National Academies Press, 2000: 159).
The story is that, in 1904, the renowned British-American entomologist named George Willis Kirkaldy (1873-1910) who worked on so-called true bugs, order Hemiptera, created a series of generic names for his beloved bugs, among them: Ochisme, Dolichisme, Elachisme, Florichisme, Isachisme, Marichisme, Nanichisme, Peggichisme, and Polychisme. “-chisme” of course is pronounced “KISS-me.”
Kirkaldy died in 1910 in San Francisco, aged only 36. In 1912, he was posthumously criticized for frivolity by the Zoological Society of London. “Presumably, eight years elapsed before anyone in the Zoological Society actually pronounced these names out loud and realized that the series provided a plea for osculatory adventures” (Berenbaum, 2000). All these bug names, however, were, and are, perfectly available according to zoological nomenclature, although some of them were synonymized since 1904.
I do not know where in his entomological career Nabokov picked up George Kirkaldy’s precious pun. It has been known to many; it is still around, now mostly on the trivia websites. However, the original Kirkaldy paper, “Bibliographical and nomenclatorial notes on the Hemiptera. No. 3,” appeared in the famous British journal, The Entomologist (1904, 37: 279-283). Nabokov’s own first publication in English, “A Few Notes on Crimean Lepidoptera” (1920), appeared in the same journal, one of his favorites, as Johnson and Coates remind us in their wonderful Nabokov’s Blues (McGraw-Hill, 2001). Nabokov read this journal for decades: he wrote to his wife from Prague in 1930 how he “..gnawed into old numbers of The Entomologist” (Boyd & Pyle, Nabokov’s Butterflies, Beacon Press, 2000); those were “lovingly stacked … on the table beside his bed” by his mother (Johnson & Coates, 2001). Nabokov published two more papers in The Entomologist, in 1931 and 1948.
Would it be too much to assume that Nabokov had in fact seen the original Kirkaldy publication in his young years in Russia? Already by 1910, he was “voraciously reading entomological periodicals, especially English and Russian ones” (Speak, Memory, 6.2), among which the English “were then the best in the world” (Drugie berega, 6.2, in Russian). In a 1962 interview, Nabokov said “In my early boyhood all the notes I made on the butterflies I collected were in English, with various terms borrowed from that most delightful magazine The Entomologist” (Strong Opinions, 5).
Nabokov used three names in Ada: one is Adakisme; two others, Ohkisme and Marykisme, are original Kirkaldy’s names, Ochisme and Marichisme. What is a Mary doing in Ada? Is it another eruption of the “marigold” (marybud) motif, or also a reference to Nabokov’s own first novel and first love, “Mary”?
Among the original Kirkaldy names not present in Ada, on the same page as Ochisme and Marichisme, is Dolichismе, and Dolly is Lolita, referenced in Ada many times. Ada of course plays “Dolores, a dancing girl” in Don Juan’s Last Fling. One has indeed to solve the puzzle of Kirkaldy, and jump back to the 1904 pages of The Entomologist to see the 1955 “Dolly” once again, reflected in Ardis of 1884. (Note that “chisme” also means “gossip” in Spanish, a strange coincidence? Do we hear also a tinge of “kismet” here?).
Kirkaldy created many other whimsical generic names such as Apache, Geisha, Nirvana, Peregrinator, and Texas; one of his 1902 names even honored the Hawaiian king, Kamehameha. Amazingly, in 1906 Kirkaldy also authored the hemipteran name Lucinda (!). I am tempted to think that, of all people, Nabokov would check his Nomenclator Zoologicus (Neave, 1939), the standard reference list of all generic names in zoology―for Lucette’s full name: too many coincidences. Quite incidentally, “Neave” and “Veen” make a nice phonetic palindrome. Sheffield Airey Neave (1879-1961) was a famous British entomologist, and several butterfly species are named by him and after him.
In addition, long before Neave (1939) became available, one of the standard reference books in zoology was an earlier Nomenclator Zoologicus authored by Scudder (1882). Samuel Hubbard Scudder (1837-1911) was the most famous American lepidopterist, whose Butterflies of the Eastern United States and Canada, with Special Reference to New England (1889) Nabokov read as a child and called “stupendous” (Speak, Memory). Scudder worked in the same Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, where also all Scudder’s collections are deposited. Among many other insect species, Lycaeides scudderi (now Plebejas idas scudderi) (Lycaenidae) was named after Scudder, as well as the famous Karner Blue, Lycaeides (now Plebejus) melissa samuelis Nabokov, 1943; its holotype was collected by Scudder. The story of Karner Blue is told in Zimmer’s A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths and detailed in Johnson & Coates’ Nabokov’s Blues.
The fact that in Ada Nabokov ascribes Kirkaldy-style names to “a well-known microlepidopterist” (while Kirkaldy was a well-known hemipterist) appears to be an intentional hoax, designed to confuse a future Nabokovian who would search in vain for these names among Microlepidoptera (the suborder of Lepidoptera that includes small moths), and after not finding any would shrug these names off as another unexplained quirk of Nabokov’s ebullient fantasy. Indeed, by the time of Ada’s writing, the multitude of lepidopteran motifs in Nabokov’s ouevre was already so well-known and overinterpreted that planting a fake lepidopteran reference among many real ones seems very much fitting in Ada’s deceptive antiworld.
Otherwise, one has to assume that Nabokov used Kirkaldy’s names following a second-hand entomological rumor without even checking their source or taxonomy, and indeed thought that the “-chisme” names were authored by a microlepidopterist. This strikes me as impossible, especially since Ochisme and Marichisme are easily found in the alphabetical listing of Neave (1939), and checking a generic name and its author is a routine procedure, which, however, Nabokov failed to do at least once. In 1945, he created the generic name Pseudothecla, not realizing that this name was already used by Embrik Strand in 1910 for another taxon; and Strand’s name is indeed listed in Neave (1939, 3: 1007). This error led Francis Hemming in 1960 to approach Nabokov and suggest a valid “replacement name” Nabokovia (Zimmer, A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths, 204, 246).
I have no doubt that Nabokov’s names listed in Ada have a Kirkaldy origin. So far it is not clear, however, whether Nabokov had indeed seen the original Kirkaldy (1904) paper, or whether he checked Kirkaldy’s names (including the hidden Dolichisme) against Neave (1939) or other available source when writing Ada. I think that at least the latter was quite possiblе, especially after the Hemming incident.
The final rewarding discovery awaits an ardent researcher who will notice which taxonomic group (family) of Hemiptera Kirkaldy’s names belong to. At least two of them, Ochisme and Dolichisme, are proud members of Cimicidae, the bedbug family, which includes that most infamous creature, the bedbug (Cimex lectularius). The cimicids are ectoparasites that feed on the blood of mammals and birds. It is beyond this note to explore the rich bedbug motif in Russian literature (not even mentioning Mayakovsky’s play Klop [The Bedbug]); it ranges from the roadside hotels where klopy da blohi zasnut’ minuty ne dayut (“bedbugs and fleas don’t give one a minute’s sleep”) (Eugene Onegin, 7, XXXIV, Nabokov’s translation) to a “mature bedbug” that pre-tortures the hero of Cloud, castle, lake. Even some places in Ardis (the shooting gallery) “crawled with bedbugs” (1.34: 212.11). It is, however, a mild shock to discover the “kiss” motif crossing the “blood” motif so prominent in Ada (Chateaubriand’s mosquito, etc.) in the image of that classical synanthrope.
Kirkaldy’s tradition was recently revived by the American entomologist Neal Evenhuis who named a new genus and species of a fossil fly from amber Carmenelectra shechisme (Zootaxa, 2002, 100: 1-15). The description says: “The genus-group name is named for television, film, and magazine personality, Carmen Elektra [sic]. Both namesakes exemplify splendid somal structure for their respective taxa. The species-group epithet is an arbitrary combination of letters (13).” The species-group epithet of course is none of that. An extra pun on the pop celebrity’s (Carmen Electra) pseudonym is not lost on amber researchers, who often incorporate “electro-“ (signifying amber in Greek) into new taxonomic names.
I thank Dr. Brian Boyd for his suggestions on this note, and Dr. Neal Evenhuis for his help.
The Nabokovian (Lawrence, Kansas), 2006, 56: 14-19.