Regional Virus names bad. So what do we call the new variants?

You may remember early reports of the “China Virus”, but the World Health Organization did not recognize that – the decision to refrain from geographic titles for viruses was made long before.

So what are the proper names for “the UK Variant” or the “South African Variant” that keep popping up in the news? Hopefully something that is concise.

In the scientific literature the variants of concern are referred to either by the phylogenic lineage (“B.1.1.7”), amino acid modification or deletion (“501Y.V1”), or just by the date and sequence it was discovered (“VOC-202012/01”). Of course, almost nobody outside of virology circles calls the pathogen by its proper name anyway (“SARS-CoV-2”), instead just referring to it as “the coronavirus” or just “corona” as if we’ve had an epidemic of really shitty beer.

I would suggest naming them after figures in various demonology traditions but I’m sure someone would be culturally offended, so maybe we could just give them generic baby names instead. Aside from the negative stereotyping of naming a variant or strain after the place it was first identified, I don’t want to have to learn to pronounce a bunch of Gaelic or Slavic city names much less try to correctly spell them out.


Those work for me.

[quote=“Stranger_On_A_Train, post:2, topic:931715”]
really shitty beer

That sounds redundant to me…

Are people going to start pushing to rename the Spanish flu? The Hong Kong flu? German measles? Marburg virus?

Maybe we should just use letters of the alphabet.

SARS-CoV-2 Variant A
SARS-CoV-2 Variant B
SARS-CoV-2 Variant C

Since we can’t use UK variant, couldn’t we just name it after the current leader? So it’s the Boris Johnson / BoJo / BJ variant. :grin:

The problem with the calling Covid-19 “The China Virus” is that the very purpose was racism. It was meant to be judgmental and incriminating, not descriptive.

I get that you’re talking about yourself and your friends, but that’s not the whole world.

Well, since the US joined the WHO again, then yes, the whole world decided on the naming conventions back in 2015 to prevent countries, places and groups from being stigmatized.

This is silly. We have long named viruses after the first places they were noted. It does not mean much. It ought not to cause offense.

A list? Of course I have a list.

Noting that stigmatization is a result is not the same as proving that stigmatization is the “very purpose”

Nothing that it was Trump who tried to make it official, I think then that Darren_Garrison point stands.

Yes, but the rules have changed, and almost all nations signed to follow the WHOs guidelines. Incidentally, even if there is no offense, places burdened with a disease named after can still be affected.

No, I clearly recall that at the beginning, we called it “this coronavirus”, or “the novel coronavirus” or “the Wuhan Coronavirus”

Here’s a link to an old thread about it, when it first hit the new. The OP started, “so, how worried are you about this coronavirus”, and I’ve linked to a post that referenced the Johns Hopkins Wuhan Coronavirus Tracker.

Then it got an official name. The virus was named SARS-CoV-2 and the associated disease was named Covid-19, in accordance with current rules about how to name new human viruses.

History of Name of Covid-19

And only AFTER THAT, certain people who wanted to blame the virus on China started referring to it as the “China Virus”. No one ever called it that in good faith – that name was created and promulgated as a racist attack: originally an attempt to downplay the importance in the US, and then as an attempt to cast blame.

I’m not certain how long there have been guidelines discouraging naming diseases after regions. Certainly, people routinely violate them as it’s a handy way to refer to new diseases. And mostly it’s just descriptive. No one ever cast “Lyme Disease” as the fault of the town of Lyme.

As Stranger says, the formal names for those variants are not very user-friendly. That’s okay, we’ll have lots more variants soon enough, and no one but virologists will try to keep track of them. So they don’t really need good names.

This morning I saw a news report:

“There are a number of variants circulating around the world, but so far, scientists are concerned about three in particular: the U.K. variant (known as B117), the variant found in South Africa (known as B1351) and another variant found in Brazil (known as P1).”

I suspect that variants will continue to be known by geographic location, just because most people will not understand B117, B1351, and P1.

Turnabout is fair play: If the next damned virus starts in this hemisphere., the irresponsible elements in the Asian news can call it the “big-nosed foreign devil virus”.

“Don’t you call my ‘usband ‘Big Nose’!”


It is hard to imagine a serious, long-lasting impact to a region of using the traditional method of naming a virus. All in all, it seem as if people just want to get upset about something. I provided a list of a hundred or so place-name viruses. I suppose very few of them were bothered by the traditional naming system.

Of the 832 incidents reported in California, many included anti-Asian slurs and references to China and the coronavirus. One assailant yelled about “bringing that Chinese virus over here” during an attack against an Asian-American man at a San Francisco hardware store on May 6. The assailant reportedly also said “Go back to China,” “F---- you, Chinaman” and “F— you, you monkey.” In another San Francisco incident on June 9, someone threw a glass bottle at a woman putting her child in a car seat and yelled, “Go home Ch—k.” And in Santa Clara on June 16, a man kicked a woman’s dog and then spat at her, saying, “Take your disease that’s ruining our country and go home.”

You were saying?


Pardon me. Perhaps I was unclear. I was saying, It is hard to imagine a serious, long-lasting impact to a region of using the traditional method of naming a virus. All in all, it seem as if people just want to get upset about something. I provided a list of a hundred or so place-name viruses. I suppose very few of them were bothered by the traditional naming system.

I do not really believe antidotal evidence. I am willing to admit that some people some place have been offended. It is not proven to me that this would not have happened had not Donald Trump decided to play his well-worn race card.

Some people want to be offended. They want to dictate how things are named.

That’s a good point and a good way of explaining it. Also, the world as a whole isn’t nearly as racist (is that the right word) towards the UK or South Africa as it is towards China. And, let’s be honest, at least part of the reason ‘Wuhan Flu’ caught on so quickly is because a lot of people likely found it to be an amusing/funny sounding name, and Trump isn’t exactly noted as someone that fights for equality.

While UK Variant isn’t now and likely never was intended to be racist, here’s a great example of some (member of parliament) not being thrilled about the therm. Sorry for one of the tweets being duplicated, I couldn’t find them as separate images.

That could be the case if rules had not been in place, they were in place before the pandemic. IMHO one reason for Trump and his bigot brigade to leave the WHO was that they hated to be reminded of those rules so it was one unmentioned reason why to leave.

His mentioned reason for leaving then was based on conspiracy theories and no clear reforms demanded. What he did then showed one reason why, to continue to use racism to minimize a numver of Americans from noticing his failures when dealing with the pandemic.