A small Welsh town with a big name brings a small myxobacterium to the front

Abstract: Global profusion of proper names of new animals, plants, bacteria, viruses and diseases are derived from Latin, and Latin blends become a de facto taxonomic convention. Majority of Latin names are sententious and wonderful, and always reveal unexpected and fascinating stories with the faith of full-fledged sociocultural paradigm — a proper name is expected to be scientifically pithy and socially acceptable. Arguably, some long, tangled, unpronounceable Latin names have found their way in scientific literature and confounded the generally accepted paradigm at the cost of unintentional social impacts.

Myxococcaceae with the longest Latin name

Recently, a myxobacterium garner public attention for its long, obscure, boring, and unpronounceable name beyond the newly described discovery per se. On October 6, 2020, a myxobacterium Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis might set a new record — the longest Latin name. It newly named after a small Welsh town with a big name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (1):

Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis, (llan.fair.pwll.gwyn.gyll.gog.er.ych.wyrn.dro.bwllll.ant.ysil.iog.ogogoch.en’sis. N.L. masc. adj. llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis, pertaining to llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, reflecting its isolation from soil collected in that parish [gridref 53.22°N 4.19°W]).”

Here, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a small, quiet town on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of North Wales, famous for having the longest place name in Europe. Originally the town had a shorter, easier to pronounce name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. In the 1880s, in a joking attempt to attract tourists, a tailor added the rest of the syllables, bringing the total length to 58 letters, including four letter L’s in a row. Now, the small Welsh town with a big name brings the newly described myxobacterium to the front with the total length to 73 letters — 68 letters if you count by Welsh orthography, treating ‘ch’ and ‘ll’ as digraphs (2). Obviously, the new record unseated the previous record holders: a lung disease Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis[1](45 letters) and a soldier fly Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides[2] (43 letters).

Hilariously, early in 2012, paleontologists on the DINOSAUR Mailing List actually were worried (a bit) that someone would find a new dinosaur species in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch:

> Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2012 03:11:11 +0000
> From: keenir@hotmail.com
> To: ron.orenstein@rogers.com; archosauromorph2@hotmail.com; dinosaur@usc.edu
> Subject: RE: Huehuecanauhtlus tiquichensis, new Santonian hadrosauroid
> > Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2012 19:03:52 -0800
> > From: ron.orenstein@rogers.com
> > To: archosauromorph2@hotmail.com; dinosaur@usc.edu
> > Subject: Re: Huehuecanauhtlus tiquichensis, new Santonian hadrosauroid
> >
> > God, I hope that no one discovers any new dinosaurs in Wales….
> Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis?
> thank you, wiki.
> _The 58-character name
> Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the famous name
> of a town on Anglesey, an island of Wales. This place’s name is actually 51
> letters long, as certain character groups in Welsh are considered as one
> letter, for instance ll, ng and ch. It is generally agreed, however, that
> this invented name, adopted in the mid-19th century, was contrived solely to
> be the longest name of any town in Britain. The official name of the place is
> Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, commonly abbreviated to Llanfairpwll or the somewhat
> jocular Llanfair PG._
> >
> >
> > Ronald Orenstein
> > 1825 Shady Creek Court
> > Mississauga, ON L5L 3W2
> > Canada
> > ronorenstein.blogspot.com
> >
> >
> > —– Original Message —–
> > From: Brad McFeeters <archosauromorph2@hotmail.com>
> > To: dinosaur@usc.edu
> > Cc:
> > Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:51:24 AM
> > Subject: RE: Huehuecanauhtlus tiquichensis, new Santonian hadrosauroid
> >
> >
> > According to Ramírez-Velasco et al., _Huehuecanauhtlus_ should be
> > pronounced “UEUE-CANA-UHh-TLUS”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how one would
> > pronounce “UEUE-CANA-UHh-TLUS” either.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > —————————————-

Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis is … a lot. The etymology is, to be fair, nothing unusual in the construction of Latin names: it’s a place name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Latinized with “-ensis”, to indicate “coming from”. And sure enough, the species was isolated from soil collected in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the Welsh town famous for its name.

In fact, deliberately famous for its name: it was originally Llanfair y Pwllgwyngyll until some terribly clever 19th-century folks decided that a longer name would attract tourists. The full name isn’t in routine use: the town appears on maps as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, and either of two shorter forms appears locally: Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG. All of which means that llanfairensis or llanfairpwyllensis would have been perfectly suitable names for the new Myxococcus and they would have retained the commendable feature of recognizing the local language.  It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the authors chose Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis mostly because they could, and because it was fun (1).

Could they really? It seems so. The International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria[3] doesn’t prohibit such long names, although it recommends against them[4] (3)

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that in 1929, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature suppressed a batch of amphipod names, including the jawbreaker Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis, on the grounds that “the application of the Rules in accepting them will clearly result in more confusion than uniformity”. That is, the long and complicated amphipod names weren’t actually disallowed by the naming Code (in this case, the zoological one); but the commissioners agreed that they were a bad enough idea to be gotten rid of anyway.

This may all seem trivial, whichever way you sit with respect to Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis, but it isn’t quite well. But the rules of naming do make it difficult to fully represent some languages – only the Latin alphabet is allowed, for example, and concerns about pronounceability suggest that one might reasonably ask, pronounceability by speakers of what language?  The ‘ll’ in Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis is pronounced in Welsh as a sound that doesn’t occur in English (or many other languages), and the click consonants of Khoisan languages are difficult to represent in the Latin alphabet.

Concerns raised over this new record with its length rather than source language. For example, Stephen B. Heard, an evolutionary ecologist and entomologist at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, claimed that:

“Should we adjust our Latin-naming system to make it more inclusive of linguistic diversity – even if doing so makes it more difficult for global science to use? I don’t pretend to have an answer to that one. I will note that my objection to llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis isn’t its Welshness, but its length. The routine use of shorter town names suggests that many Welsh speakers and even residents of the town itself share this objection. I’d have been quite tickled with Myxococcus llanfairpwyllensis!”

What do you think? Is Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis a breath of fresh air, or rather too much of a good thing?

Yi qi: the shortest Latin name

Admittedly, people often think Latin names are long, obscure, boring, and unpronounceable (Table 1).

Latin Names Species Length Approved
Lagenivaginopseudobenedenia genus of parasitic worms 27
Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis moth 31
Pseudotyrannochthonius octospinosus pseudoscorpion 35
Griseotyrannus aurantioatrocristatus flycatcher 36
Weberbauerocereus cephalomacrostibas cactus 36
Cryptodidymosphaerites princetonensis (fossil) fungus 37
Prolasioptera aeschynanthusperottetii gall midge 37
Anaerobiospirillium succiniciproducens bacterium 38
Parapallaseakytodermogammarus abyssalis amphipods 39 NOT
Notiocryptorrhynchus punctatocarinulatus weevil 40
Toxophthalmoechinogammarus toxophthalmus amphipods 40 NOT
Zienkowiczikytodermogammarus zienkowiczi amphipods 40 NOT
Rhodophthalmokytodermogammarus cinnamomeus amphipods 42 NOT
Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides soldier fly 43
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis lung disease 45
Siemienkiewicziechinogammarus siemenkiewitschii amphipods 47 NOT
Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis amphipods 51 NOT
Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis bacterium 74

These names mostly have one thing in common: they try to do way, way too much.  They try to mention a place, and the name of a related taxon, and a descriptive trait, and another descriptive trait, and then modify that with a “pseudo” or a “para” or a “brachy”. And then they keep on going (5).

There’s some interesting history attached to this.  Scientists have, for thousands of years, been working to systematically list and describe the species with which we share our world.  A necessary part of this task to assign names to each species, so that we can have a way to talk about them.  In the 1600s and early 1700s, this task was becoming both more urgent and more difficult as European scientists were struggling to classify a flood of specimens coming in from voyages of exploration around the world.  And they were doing this with a pre-Linnaean naming system, and that sucked.

The pre-Linnaean convention for names wasn’t the two-word (genus name and species name) system we’re familiar with today.  Instead, the species name was descriptive – in the sense that it was supposed to describe the named species in a way that distinguished it from all other related species.  That made the name a phrase – sometimes a long phrase, and as more species were named, increasingly a longer and longer phrase.  A name might be, for instance (for a species of poisonwood) Amyris foliis pinnatis, foliolis petiolata, which mean “Amyris – the one with pinnately compound leaves, and the leaflets with petioles”.  These names were cumbersome, and promised only to get more so.

It was, of course, Carl Linnaeus who freed us from these names, by inventing the binomial system we use today. In the Linnaean system, the naming and describing functions are separated, with the name serving as an indexing device to access a description in the literature.  Our Amyris, for example, can now be just Amyris toxifera, with the naming publication holding the full description.  A name can still be descriptive – A. toxifera is indeed poisonous – but it doesn’t have to be.  Linnaeus invented the possibility of naming a species based on a location (Viola canadensis), after a person (Heteropoda davidbowie), or with any number of other etymologies.  (Arbitrary combinations of letters are even, explicitly, allowed by the naming Codes.)

Like many truly great inventions, Linnaeus’s innovation of name-as-indexer is completely, head-smackingly obvious in hindsight.  It made it possible for us to make names memorable but also accessible.  The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad names I’m picking on here forget about the progress Linnaeus brought us.  They try to encode too much description in the names.  Some description helps make a name memorable, to be sure (although it’s not the only way to do that).

The job of taxonomists is a critical one: we can’t understand or manage our natural world if we don’t know the species, and we can’t know them without describing and naming them.  I make this argument often, to students and to public audiences.  Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Latin names make the argument harder to make.  We’re stuck with the ones we have, but it would be great if we didn’t make more.

But really, Latin names can be scientifically pithy and wonderful. It is worth mentioning that the shortest record is held by Yi qi among others (4). Stephen B. Heard claimed that this record can never be broken because genus and species names must have at least 2 letters each.

Yi qi, a newly described dinosaur whose name is interesting in origin and sound, and also wonderfully and surprisingly short. (Image: Brian Choo)

A small Welsh town with a big Welsh name

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a large village and local government community on the island of Anglesey in Wales. It is the longest place name in Britain with 58 letters. Translated into English it means “St Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the fierce whirlpool of St Tysilio of the red cave” and was named so in the 1960s purely so that the village would have the longest name in Britain.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyll is a village with a long place name in Wales and is situated on Ynys Mon (the island of Anglesey) in north Wales. It currently has a population of over 3,000 and is predominately a Welsh speaking part of Wales. It is situated near to the bridge, Pont Britannia (Britannnia Bridge) which connects mainland Wales to the island of Anglesey over the Menai Strait. Possibly the more famous bridge connecting Wales to Anglesey is the Thomas Telfod suspension bridge.

It is often shorted in speech and in writing to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll or Llanfair PG. However, in the town itself, the name is often shown in full at, for example the train station and other commercial buildings.

James Pringle Weavers shop with English translation of the name.

For centuries, Llanfairpwll was a small rural settlement on Ynys Mon. In the 16th century there were about 50 inhabitants. By the early 19th century, it had grown to about 400 inhabitants in what was becoming to be known as the old town Pentre Uchaf, or Upper Village and the village name became either Llanfairpwll gwyngyllgogerych wyrndrobwll llantysiliogogogoch-isaf (lower town) or
Llanfairpwll gwyngyllgogerych wyrndrobwll llantysiliogogogoch-uchaf (upper town)(6).

The coming of the 20th century brought major changes following the construction of Thomas Telford’s new road in the 1820s and then the arrival of the railway crossing at Britannia Bridge at the beginning of the 1850s. This led to the development of a new part of the village, which became to be be known as Pentre Isaf or Lower Village around the railway station.

The sign at the railway station gives an approximation of the correct pronunciation for English speakers.

It is believed that originally, the village was called Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll. In the second half of the 19th century, at the beginning of the 1850s when a railway was being built between Chester and Holyhead, the village was renamed.

A group of enterprising local people encouraged the railway builders to build a station at Llanfairpwll to encourage travelers to shop at the village to develop commercial trade. It is believed that the name Llanfairpwll was invented around this time by a cobbler from Menai Bridge who had the idea of combining the name of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll with that of neighboring Llandysiliogogoch to create the longest name in the world. It is very unlikely that he had any idea as to to how successful this name change would be as a tourist marketing plan it would be!

Incredibly, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is not the longest town name in the world — Thailand has a town whose name has 163 letters:


How long could a Latin name be? If new species was collected in this Thailand town and a Latin name could bring the total length to at least 168 letters:


[1]Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (silicosis for short) is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “a word invented in imitation of polysyllabic medical terms, alleged to mean ‘a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine sand and ash dust (mostly volcanic silica ash dust)’ but occurring only as an instance of a very long word.”

[2]Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides is a species of fly in the family Stratiomyidae. It is native to Thailand. Its genus name comes from Ancient Greek, meaning “Near soldier wasp-fly”, with its species name meaning “wasp fly-like”. It is considered to be the animal with the longest valid scientific name; the name Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis was longer, but was suppressed and is no longer valid. P. stratiosphecomyioides, sometimes referred to as the Southeast Asian soldier fly, was described in 1923 by British entomologist Enrico Brunetti.

[3]The nomenclature of bacteria is regulated by the rules of the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria which was revised in 1975 and the revised code was updated in 1992. The code presents the formal framework by which bacteria are to be officially named, and the procedures by which existing names can be changed for example, when new data warrants taxonomic rearrangement.

[4]The Code has Rules, which are binding, and Recommendations, which are not, and here we go: “Recommendation 6.1… Avoid names or epithets that are very long or difficult to pronounce.


  1. J. Chambers et al., Comparative genomics and pan-genomics of the Myxococcaceae, including a description of five novel species: Myxococcus eversor sp. nov., Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis sp. nov., Myxococcus vastator sp. nov., Pyxi. Genome Biol. Evol. (2020), doi:10.1093/gbe/evaa212.
  2. S. Heard, A new (and unfortunate) record: the longest Latin name (2020), (available at https://scientistseessquirrel.wordpress.com/2020/10/20/a-new-and-unfortunate-record-the-longest-latin-name/).
  3. S. Lapage et al., International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 1992).
  4. S. Heard, Wonderful Latin Names, Part 4: Yi qi (2015), (available at https://scientistseessquirrel.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/wonderful-scientific-names-part-4-yi-qi/).
  5. J. D. Nason, S. B. Heard, F. R. Williams, Host-associated genetic differentiation in the goldenrod elliptical-gall moth, Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae). Evolution (N. Y). 56, 1475–1488 (2002).
  6. Dave Fox. A Small Welsh Town with a Big Welsh Name. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/small-town-with-big-name
About Sunney 116 Articles
I am currently a Professor of Zhejiang Gongshang University, Hangzhou, China.

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