So how do you get a fossil named after you? The easiest way is to make friends with a Palaeontologist who is good at discovering things and is looking for names to call their new finds. A slightly harder way is to find a new fossil species and give it to a Palaeontologist who names it after you. (In case you were wondering, it is against the rules to call new discoveries after yourself ). Just before ChristmasI had a visit from my old friend Stuart Sutherland from Canada who named a fossil after me back in 1994. I have four fossils named after me and have named some after others too. Here are the stories behind each of them.
On graduation day in 1993; Professor David Siveter, Andrew Swift, Stuart Sutherland and a young looking Giles Miller.
Stuart and I were studying for our PhDs at the University of Leicester in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We both had similar field areas in the Welsh Borderland around Ludlow and often scheduled fieldwork for the same time, occasionally helping each other to collect study samples. One summer evening I was helping Stuart to collect samples deep in the Mortimer Forest outside Ludlow. Foolishly I managed to hammer my thumb drawing blood and we had to return to our accomodation early.
Angochitina milleri Sutherland, 1994. This chitinozoan is less than half a millimetre in length.
I didn’t realise but Stuart made a note of the sample number and once he dissolved it back in the lab, he found a new species of chitinozoan that he named Angochitina milleri Sutherland, 1994 in my honor. Chitinozoans are tiny organic jug shaped organisms. To this day is it still unclear what they are but they are very useful age diagnostic constituents of marine rocks in the middle Palaeozoic era (very roughly 360-480 Million years ago). Some think that they are some sort of egg case as they sometimes appear linked in chains.
The ostracod Progonocythere milleri Wakefield, 1994 from the Jurassic of Scotland. It is just less than a millimetre long.
While Stuart and I were living in Leicester we shared a house with our good friend Matthew Wakefield who was studying ostracods from the Jurassic of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. He had discovered several new species that he kindly named after his housemates. New species number 2 is therefore Progonocythere milleri Wakefield, 1994. You will notice that after each milleri is the name of the author and the date of publication. I am honoured to have both of these two species named after me and published in Monographs of the Palaeontological Society, a very prestigious journal that has also published Darwin’s work. The holotype of P. milleri also resides in the collections currently in my care.
The third milleri is more tenuous as the author, Jonathan Adrain (now University of Iowa) discovered lots of new species of trilobite from the Canadian Arctic while he was working at the Museum. He discovered so many that he decided to use the phone list of the Department of Palaeontology at the time to name his various new species. Hence Gerastos milleri Adrain, 1997. In fact there were not enough names on the list to completely cover all his new discoveries so he decided to name some of them after his favourite pop group, The Beatles. His publications therefore include a macartneyi a harrisoni and a petebesti!
Kannathalepis milleri Marss & Gagnier, 2001, scales from an ancient fish from the Canadian Arctic.
At the time I asked Jonathan if he could provide some spare rock from his trilobite studies so that I could attempt to extract microfossils. Some of these samples contained some fish scales that I passed on to my good friend Dr Tiiu Märss of Tallinn Technical University, Estonia with whom I was working at the time. One of these samples contained some fragments of a new fish hence the fourth new species named after me Kanathalepis milleri Märss and Gagnier, 2001.
Pictures taken on fieldwork with Tiiu in 1995; with Peter Tarrant at Man Brook and taking a sample from under a tree half way up Caer Caradoc, Shropshire.
Tiiu also passed me some samples from the Canadian Arctic from which I discovered some new species of ostracod that I named Beyrichia marssae Miller, Siveter and Williams, 2010 and Platybolbina adraini Miller, Siveter and Williams, 2010 in honour of Tiiu and Jonathan. However, you will notice from the date after these names that it took me a much longer time to publish my new species!
Beyrichia marssae and Platybolbina adraini.
As you can see from the stories above, the naming of species new to science sometimes provides historical information about the lives of scientists, their collections and collaborations. Working at the Museum and being involved in science has meant that I have met a lot of people from all around the world, some of whom have decided to honour me by naming new species after me for various reasons.
Sometimes names become superceded when later research shows that they were not really new. Someone may have already described them or they could be a smaller part of something already described. As far as I know all the milleris are still as valid as the friendships gained through working in science. It was lovely to speak to my Estonian colleague Tiiu while working on this post. I see Matt Wakefield regularly at scientific meetings about ostracods. It has also been great to see my old friend Stuart again.