Friday, 15 May 2009

Who Was Fibonacci Before He Was Fibonacci

Vlorbik picked up on my "factoid interlude" in my last blog that no one called Fibonacci by that name in his lifetime. When he asked, "Who did?", I realized that thousands of students (and their teachers) probably do not know that name was added well after his death. So here is the story, as well as I know it, from the notes on my Math Words Etymology page.
According to Paul J. Nahin, author of AN IMAGINARY TALE, the name Fibonacci was not common until centuries after Leonardo's death, and during his lifetime he was called Bigollo, a slang term for a loafer, and my wife's favorite term for me, drawn from the word bighellone. Julio Gonzalez Cabillon has written, "The name 'Fibonacci' most probably originated with the historian of mathematics Guillaume Libri (1803-1869)."

In September of 2001, Heinz Lueneburg posted a note that seemed to suggest that there may have been earlier uses than Julio suggested. He writes (with some editing by me):

I was in Rome and checked the Boncompagni paper
I quoted in my posting of August 28. The paper starts with the diskussion of what is known of persons of the Bonacci family other than Leonardo: One Matteo Bonacci is known because he is mentioned as a witness of the treaty Pisa and Genova signed on February 13, 1188.
Then he lists the names of authors who use the name "Leonardo Pisano".
Then he lists the names of authors who use the name "Fibonacci".
John Leslie 1820
Cossali 1797-99
Giovanni Gabriello Grimaldi 1790-1792
Libri 1838-1841
Chasles 1837
Nicollet 1811-1818
S. Ersch & I. G. Gruber 1818 and subsequent years
August de Morgan 1847. He also uses Bonacci.

Then he lists the names of authors who explain "Fibinacci = filio Bonacci"
Flaminio dal Borgo 1765
Tiraboschi 1822-1828
Ranieri Tempesti 1787
Giovanni Andres 1808-1817
Grimaldi 1790-1792
Libri 1838-1841

Then his arguments for Fibonacci = de filiis Bonacci follow.
Then he discusses the sobriquet Bigollone, Bigollo, Bigoloso.
Finally, in the major part of the paper, he discusses the various manuscripts of the various works of Fibonacci still in existence.
The question "who gets the credit?" is still open.
Regards, Heinz Lueneburg

My personal pick is Flaminio dal Borgo 1765

By the way, a personal footnote, On the last day of my first visit to Pisa I missed a turn and came upon the Via Fibonacci quite by accident.

And just a followup, we DO know who first invented the term "Fibonacci Sequence". It was created by Edouard Anatole Lucas, who is also known for inventing the "Towers of Hanoi" puzzle.


Anonymous said...

Towers of Hanoi? He invented the puzzle, or popularized it?

Man, I thought that one was ancient!


Pat's Blog said...

Yep, INVENTED... he was a clever guy... another game, another blog, another day... There is even a "Fibonacci-like" sequence named for him...
Stay tuned for more.

r. r. vlorbik said...

wow. that etymology page
has a *lot* of stuff...

Unknown said...

Hey Pat B,
Do you know the exact date of Fibonacci's death? I am working on a project in my Geometry class, and I can't seem to find it anywhere.

Unknown said...

By the way, thanks for the page.