With the reality that a previously unknown animal virus has started infecting people, the world faces a recurring question: What does one call it?
The pneumonia-causing virus, which is spreading rapidly in China and beyond, is currently being identified as 2019-nCoV, shorthand for a novel or new (i.e. “n”) coronavirus (CoV) that was first detected in 2019. The disease it causes doesn’t yet have a name, either, though Wuhan SARS or Wu Flu are among of the options being thrown around on the internet.
None of these is likely to be the virus’ or the disease’s permanent name. They almost certainly would be unacceptable to the Chinese, and to the World Health Organization, which discourages the use of place names in the naming of diseases. As for the virus, the longer it spreads the less novel it becomes.
So how to name it? And who gets to name it?