An asteroid has been named after the late great Queen singer Freddie Mercury to honour what would have been his 70th birthday on 5 September. It might seem like an extraordinary gesture,
but Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury is by no means the only object in space – or on earth for that matter – named after a rock star. Scientists and astronomers, paleontologists and arachnologists count many music fans among their number, meaning all manner of strange things, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, are named after their favourite musicians.
Here are 12 examples of unexpected things in the known (and unknown) world that have taken the names of famous musicians.
Headline writers the world over were presen
ted with an open goal when news broke that a prehistoric fossil had been named after Mick Jagger. Jaggermeryx naida, or ‘Jagger’s water nymph’, apparently lived around 19 million years ago in Africa, and is so named because of its large protruding lips. “I’m a huge Stones fan,” said Dr Ellen Miller, of Wake Forest University in North Carolina. “Some of my colleagues suggested naming the new species after Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, because she also has famous lips, but for me it had to be Mick.”
And The Rolling Stones singer isn’t the only rock star who’s had a fossil named after him. Each member of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones has a trilobite named in their honour, while scientists called a ‘muscular’ fossil fireworm, Rollinschaeta myoplena, after thick-necked punk menace Henry Rollins.
We’ve heard of celebrities being named after Ferns (Cotton, Britton…), but never a fern being named after a celebrity. In fact, in the case of Lady Gaga, it’s more like 19 species of fern, all part of the same genus. “We wanted to name this genus for Lady Gaga because of her ferv
ent defence of equality and individual expression,” said Professor Kathleen Pryer of Duke University. “And as we started to consider it, the ferns themselves gave us more reasons why it was a good choice.” The plants are hermaphroditic, or “bisexual” if you will, and the letters GAGA were stamped into its DNA. In other words, they were fern that way.
In 2012, a rare horsefly with a golden behind was named after bootylicious RnB singer Beyoncé by Australian scientists. The Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae fly was first collected in 1981, which just so happened to be the year of the singer’s birth. Mrs Knowles-Carter is not the only pop star with a fly named after her – the aforementioned Freddie Mercury i
s again immortalised as a stonefly, and a mayfly was named after grunge rockers Pearl Jam to mark the ban
d’s 20th anniversary. Perhaps next time, scientists can choose a nicer insect for Beyoncé. All together now: Beyoncé, twice, three times a ladybird…
From the ridiculous to the sublime – new age Celtic pop minstrel Eny
a has a planet named after her. A fairly small and insignificant planet, but a planet nevertheless. 6433 Enya is a main-belt asteroid that was discovered in 1978, meaning they must have taken a while to name it as Enya didn’t go solo until 1987. Again, the former Clannad singer isn’t the only one: The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jean Michel Jarre, Brian Wilson, Peter Gabriel, Rammstein and Motörhead can all boast planets bearing their names. Michael Jackson, meanwhile, was honoured with a moon crater – a rare occurrence in pop, as they’re normally only attributed to classical composers by highbrow astronomers.
5. Ice cream
Sir Elton John might have sold 200 million albums worldwide, had nine US No.1s and recorded the best-selling UK single ever, but he must have known he’d truly made it when one of his albums was turned into an ice cream flavour, Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road, by a pair of Vermontian hippies (Willie Nelson and Jerry Garcia have had similar treatment). A self-styled “subversive ice cream brand” from London was threatened with legal action by the Sex Pistols when it launched God Save the Cream in 2009, and then again by Lady Gaga in 2011 when they launched Baby Gaga, which was made from human breast milk, lemon zest and vanilla. Few had a problem with the lemon zest or vanilla.
David Bowie is no stranger to having peculiar things named after him. His nomenclature has graced a lightning bolt constellation, a koala bear with different coloured eyes, and a spider (not from Mars, sadly). There was even a petition started recently to call Planet 9 ‘Bowie’, though the International Astronomical Union demurred, the big spoilsports. But who cares when you’ve had a penguin named after you, eh? The Cincinnati Zoo asked for name suggestions on their Facebook page when a young chick came into being at the beginning of the year, and the most popular choices were Bowie and Elvis, who share the same 8 January birthday. Bowie won out, and the name took on added poignancy when it was announced that the singer had died two days later.
Arachnophobes should look away now, as a plethora of singers have been named after spiders, with country legend Johnny Cash leading the pack as a hairy black tarantula named Aphonopelma johnnycashi. “It’s found along the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada mountains, and one of the places that’s there is Folsom Prison,” said Dr Chris Hamilton of Auburn University in Alabama. “It’s a perfect name. It fits the spider – it’s found around Folsom and the males are predominantly all black, so it fits his image. I have a Johnny Cash tattoo so I was very happy that it worked out that way.”
Shakira may have been left feeling waspish when a pesky parasitic insect was named after her. The choice of the Colombian pop singer was apparently
inspired by her shaking and wiggling. The Aleiodes shakirae is one of 24 new species of Aleiodes wasp discovered by Dr Eduardo Shimbori and Dr Scott Shaw in the Andes. Great, more wasps, who we all know are entirely evil. Not so according to Dr Shaw who said: “These wasps are helping to naturally control the populations of plant-feeding caterpillars, so they help to sustain the biodiversity of tropical forests.”
As the 14th busiest airport in the UK with around four million passengers every year, Liverpool John Lennon Airport is not a place where peace is given much of a chance. Large international transport hubs of this nature are often named after fallen former statesmen and presidents, as well as classical composers (Liszt, Chopin, Mozart), but players in the pop game are a rarity. Only Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport can be considered anything approaching contemporary.
Experimental proto-prog legend Frank Zappa has had a bacteria named after him. The dodgy microbe, that apparently causes acne and lives in grapevines, was christened P Acnes Zappae by researchers at Italy’s Centre for Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems and Bioresources in homage to the Mothers of Invention leader. P Acnes Zappae, discovered in 2014, is highly unusual, as thus far it is the only known micro-organism that transfers from humans to plants. If Zappa, who died in 1993, was still around, he’d surely feel extremely privileged, which is more than can be said for the acnified grapes.