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Should We Rename the Bobbit Worm?

In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt (now Lorena Gallo) was in the news after she cut off her husband's penis in response to years of abuse. She was the subject of many late-night talk show jokes, and her name became a metaphor for a woman's violent revenge. It was during this time that invertebrate zoologist Terry Gosliner described many new species in his book Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific. He had to come up with names for around a thousand new creatures. One of them was the Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois), a predatory sea worm with jaws that snap shut like scissors. A quarter-century later, the name doesn't seem so funny. One woman is on a mission to change the name of the Bobbit worm.     

Kim Martini isn’t a marine biologist—she’s a physical oceanographer—but she had known about the predatory worm in question for quite some time. It’s a little notorious among ocean life enthusiasts for its fierce ambushes, the fact that it can grow up to ten feet long, and a memorably scary appearance in BBC’s Blue Planet II series. “I grew up in a time when Lorena was all over the news,” Martini says. “I never really understood the entire story, and so I used to joke about it.” When she read a 2019 profile of Gallo in The New York Times, Martini immediately made the connection between woman and worm. “In retrospect, it’s totally messed up,” that they should be associated with one another through the name of her abuser, Martini says.

Gosliner defends the name, noting that it is spelled differently from Gallo's former surname, that it does bob up and down, and that it is a celebration of Lorena's not guilty verdict. There are other species that have been given problematic names; some were successfully changed, while others were not. Read about the Bobbit worm and other animal names that did not age well at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Jenny)


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