Adding Common Names by Interpreting Scientific Names

First, the question. What are the rules on common names? Is it ok to mass add common names drawn from the scientific name? If not, what should be done in situations like this?

Now some context.
Recently I’ve seen a ton of new common names popping up that are very long and obviously just translations of the scientific name, such as Stout Earth-boring Scarab Beetle for Odonteus obesus, Semi-opaque Earth-boring Scarab Beetle for Geotrupes semiopacus, etc. While I personaly found these a bit anoying, I assumed there was a good reason they were added and while a bit long might still be considered “common” names. However, one recently showed up that suggests there isn’t a real source for them. The species is Eucanthus lazarus, and Lazarus’s Earth-boring Scarab Beetle was added as a common name. However, from what I understand the species was not named for a person named Lazarus, but after the biblical Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, referencing the beetle’s tendancy to seem dead but then start moving again. It seems to me that a source would be needed but it doesn’t seem like one is being used here.


if you haven’t already, it is worth reading the many existing forum threads discussing this topic. Many of them are very long, but they will answer your questions



Then just a specific point on those particular names.
They were being added by a curator:
Source as “NatureServe”, i.e.

and for the source of their Common names is this
Which has a link to downloadable speadsheet of 22,000 names, many seem entirely newly created by them.

If you think it’s bad them translating a noun in apposition in the same way as for a noun in genitive (i.e. lazarusi), wait until you look at some others they made!
Melanotus communis
Common Click Beetle

Microbisium parvulum
Small Pseudoscorpion


This has been discussed ad nauseam in many different posts.

The rule for common names is to only add them if they are common names already in widespread use.

Do not make up common names and add them, do not interpret or translate names across languages, do not reimagine scientific names as common names, etc.

Honestly at this point there should be an automated response every time this sort of question is asked.


In the case of Eucanthus lazarus based on your description of the etymology of the species name it would seem that the common name should not be possessive, but simply Lazarus Earth-boring Scarab Beetle (or maybe just Lazarus Beetle).


Yes, Canada basically took it upon themselves to create a load of common names more or less out of thin air. They are of dubious value and frustrating for many users, but may meet the guidelines for inclusion on iNat. The threads linked by @dianastuder (and there are others) go through this in lots of detail, so for anyone interested in the topic, I’d recommend reading through those to see if they have the info you’re looking for before rehashing too much here.


From the beginning of time, forums have had a FAQ that could be used for this purpose.

The FAQ page is linked in the email new users receive (e.g.


A FAQ is not the same as an automated response, and unfortunately many, if not most, people do not bother to read the FAQ even when it’s available.

I was wondering about a static, web-addressable FAQ.

If you skim this thread again, it will be clear that responders tire of answering the same questions over and over again. This is understandable. If there were a static web page of FAQs, it then becomes a matter of politely pointing the user to the FAQ, end of story. If the FAQ were editable by everybody, that would be even better.

there is one; the web address is linked in the email, and is also otherwise accessible anytime by anyone

There is one, and everyone gets a link to it when they start iNat, and if the referenced is before asking certain questions often they would have an answer.

However, as I’ve said, many people never bother to read the FAQ even when it’s been provided to them. This is common all over the place, not just here on iNat.

That’s why in some cases an automated response (which can include a link to the FAQ is useful).

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Copying the modified phrase “If a species has no common name in widespread usage, please don’t make one up.” (“widespread” is not there, but should be as also @earthknight suggests) to the Help page might help. Currently in this link there are no guidelines for adding common names and one has to follow another link to detailed curator’s guidelines (which understandably looks irrelevant to people who are not curators). There, it is necessary to read tens of lines of text before reaching the “Good and Bad Common Names” paragraph (which I’ve previously suggested to reword e.g. to “What is and what is not a common name” since currently it sounds as if iNat users should evaluate a quality of a name and choose the good one).

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Quite late on this, but I’m wondering now – would a similar sort of situation be the explanation for e.g. Crambus bidens being called “Biden’s grass-veneer” on Wikipedia, NatureServe, Mississippi Moth Photographers Group, and Mass Moths (among others), even though bidens just means “two-toothed” in Latin and has nothing to do with any person named Biden?


Haha, that’s amazing! I don’t know anything about that particular species, but it seems plausible. I tried to find the original description but it is in an old journal from 1872, and doesn’t appear to be available online.
Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien Vol 22, pgs 447-566 by Zeller
Checking the description, which often notes the reason for naming, could nail it down for sure.

It does look like Biden’s grass veneer isn’t listed as the default common name on iNat or Bugguide.

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Thanks to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the original publication is readily available:

In the original description, I did not find the mention of something being ‘bi-dentate’, however.

On GBIF, it is appropriately named ‘Forked Grass-veneer’

I tried BHL and my search didn’t turn up Vol 22! But other Vols were listed. Glad to have it confirmed though - I guess this is a great example of an incorrect assumption about “translating” a scientific name leading to a nonsensical common name.

If you see bogus common names like that, delete them, or ask a curator to delete them.

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