In blog post at Watching the Detectives, Norman Johnson dissects "the art and science of naming genes." Nearly a century ago, the blogger writes, researchers began to identify mutations in Drosophila; geneticists gave been naming fruit fly genes after their corresponding mutant phenotypes ever since (think: wingless). Gene nomenclature in C. elegans is also based, for the most part, on mutant phenotypes, although scientists have attempted to adhere to a more standardized set of rules. Take unc-34 as an example, Johnson says, which stands for "the 34th gene whose mutations affect coordination — unc = uncoordiantions" in the nematode. While some mammalian genes have "fanciful names," the blogger writes, "modern mammalian geneticists increasingly use a system more like those of their worm counterparts." Johnson says that while "standardization has its place," he suggests that "the way the fly community names genes, colorful as it may be, allows for easier recall of the genes, which leads to better communication between scientists."
Check out this personal Web page, written by a former University of Georgia student, which lists several "neat" gene names from Drosophila, C. elegans, Xenopus, and more.