Best Course of Action with Deceptively Incorrect Common Name?

I recently encountered a taxon flag for a species with a truly erroneous common name that was created fairly recently by a government body and so is now in use. The species is not commonly observed, so the erroneous common name is the only English one on iNat and appears to be the only one available. This presents something of a dilemma:

  • The name is legitimately in use, so it should be included on iNat to help users find the species.
  • However, the including the species name may actually contribute to misidentification/misunderstanding as it inaccurately describes the species.

I tried setting the problematic common name to “unaccepted” (crossed out), hoping that this would still allow searching for the name but only display the scientific name (and no common name). However, this only partially worked. The scientific name only now displays in the tab titles for the taxon page and the little ID tabs for observations on maps. However, for the taxon page itself, as well as observation ID, CID, and individual IDs, the common name followed by scientific name still shows.

Does anyone know a way to include a common name for a taxon that doesn’t display on IDs but is still searchable when it is the only name for that language?

If there were another English name for the species that could be set to the default, that would solve the issue, but that doesn’t appear to exist.


Maybe you could just type in the scientific name into the common name category so it says something like Arcopsis adamsi (Arcopsis adamsi) rather than Incorrect Ark (Arcopsis adamsi).

I may have done this a few times before I learned my lesson
“oh look, all the species in this genus are called drillias, I’ll name the genus drillias”
*discovers drillias in another genus *
“well crap, now it won’t let me delete the name, what should I do…”

by the way, I now NEVER do this, I only name species and use sources for my names.


Obviously the best thing would be if you could find an alternative common name for the species and set it as the preferred name. But if no such name exists, an inelegant, but functional solution that I’ve seen on iNat is to combine the scientific name with a common name for a larger group that it belongs to. For example, if a government had decided to call the species of bracken fern Pteridium rostratum the “ridiculous fern,” you might call it the “rostratum bracken” and set that as the preferred name.

It’s the sort of thing that I would avoid doing unless absolutely necessary. I consider it in the grey area for “invented common names.” But there’s precedent for doing similar things at the genus level at least.


When getting into IDing midges, I literally think I found the worst name ever. For whatever reason an endemic! species of midge to New Zealand was called Common Midge. Nothing else. Just, Common Midge. Seeing how like 80% of midge observations were already miss identified on the site. I looked the species up Chironomus zealandicus, found it being called the New Zealand Midge. Added that name and made it priority. So no more common midge in Nebraska. Though it’s still a bad name in New Zealand. There’s probably at least a hundred species of midge in new zealand.


Can you provide the specific example? Erroneous common names aren’t that unusual.

I also kind of like using the binomial as the common name if no other good option exists and including a common name of some sort might be desirable. I don’t think that breaks any rules.


Thanks for all the thoughts and replies so far. I think the proposal I like the most so far is just entering the scientific name as a common name so that it takes precedence. It is a little “grey” but still seems legitimate enough (since the scientific name is in use) to justify preventing confusion from the bad common name with the potential confusion of displaying the common name twice (though I doubt most users would notice…)

I didn’t post the specific name/flag because posting about specific taxon flags is discouraged on the forum (handled on iNat), and I figured that the general situation had likely occurred before. In this case, the specific issue with the name, according to a taxon expert, is that the common name was created by mistranslating/interpreting the Latin species epithet to mean “rough-skinned” when it does not mean that, and one of the species’ traits is that it actually has the opposite - very smooth skin.

I wonder if it would be worth creating a feature request that, in situations where:
a) a taxon only has one common name in a language and
b) that common name is designated as “unaccepted”
the display is treated as though no common name exists (ie, only the scientific name is displayed).

Are there any situations in which that would be inappropriate or produce undesired results?

It seems like this situation is uncommon but does happen a reasonable amount of the time. The proposed request might also be relevant with offensive common names and preventing them from displaying as well. However, for some of those species, alternative common names have been created already which “block” the offensive ones marked “unaccepted” (false for “accepted”).


As the resident vernacular name fanatic, I would like to point out that unlike scientific name synonyms, there is no obligation to add every common name in existence for a species.

I can’t comment on this specifically without knowing the species in question, but just because a government paper calls a discussed species “A Beetle” does not mean you are required to or should feel you have to add that name to iNaturalist. Common sense is how I usually dictate these situations, and common names created in these ways can be obviously inconvenient at best and potentially harmful at worst.

I’d have different opinions if it was a well-used common name, many of which can be misleading but are just “here to stay”, but an obscure one-off one published randomly by one paper is not at all urgent. iNaturalist is one of the few global resources that has the opportunity to have a hand in moderating common names on a scale greater than local or regional, and I do think it is important to value this.


As a former government employee who dealt with mistranslated names, it can take a very long time to undo mistakes like this. We have a local endemic plant whose scientific name means “soft leaf” because it’s covered in soft hairs. Someone had mistranslated it as the nonsense “jaw leaf” and it took about a decade of correcting the name in various places to replace the mistranslated name.


Let me guess: Castilleja mollis from Jaw Gulch?

This seems like the best approach for a case like this. Just delete the inappropriate name. Although I have seen wars between curators in other cases where one curator is adamant that the misleading name should stay, and another is adamant it should be banished.

In general I think a name that is used by legitimate sources should stay for search purposes, but a name that is misleading and has minimal use could be reconsidered.

I’m not sure what the point of making common names not show up would be?

Unaccepted names are still able to be used for searching (which is a benefit).

However, for species with “unaccepted” names, those names only show up on search (in parentheses) if they are specifically entered by the searcher. So generally only people specifically searching for that name will see them, preventing confusion.

For instance, sometimes users may enter a general term (genus, etc) to make their ID and see a variety of species, and then pick a name from those options based on the common name. @zoology123 's example above of “Common Midge” is a good example of this. Users likely searched for “midge”, and thought, “Hey, Common midge - that’s probably what I have!”

Now that “Common Midge” no longer displays (in this case due to the availability of a different common name to be default), the wrong ID problem is much reduced.

Not showing the name on the taxon page/for CID, etc prevents the name from spreading/similar confusion.

I agree that not all common names need to be in iNat, so deleting is acceptable. But I’ve also seen cases where common names are deleted and readded again. For instance, I recently had a flag where a common name that was confusing had been added (and then deleted) in four separate instances. This wasn’t an “edit war”, just a case of independent users all adding the name again. So deleting the name isn’t really a long term solution. Keeping the name and marking as unaccepted would at least prevent future additions.

Though after seeing that taxon with the 4 additions, I thought about making a feature request that, once a common name has been deleted for a specific taxon, only a curator can add it again to that taxon (not just anyone…). I guess that could help make deleting a confusing name more useful tactic.


Common names are misnomers all the time. Maybe I’d change my mind if I saw the example, but to me this doesn’t sound like a problem at all.


I’ve seen government initiatives to make up common names for every species in their jurisdiction (state, province, nation, whatever) several times now. I’m mostly focused on spiders, and for them, at least, the attempts to create common names for everything have always failed: within 10 years or so of the list of names being put out, nobody uses them, inside the government or out.

It may be different for whatever taxon you’re dealing with, but nowadays I take the initiative and lobby to have particularly bad spider names from government lists be deleted on iNaturalist. I always check to make sure there’s no sign of the name having caught on, but so far that has never happened. Government initiatives such as these don’t seem to put any effort into popularizing their names - usually they end up published in one or two places, and then they fade into obscurity.

I’m of the opinion that if you can’t find an example where two people talking to each other both know a species by the same name, and neither of them taught it to the other, then the name isn’t common enough to warrant being recorded as a common name on iNaturalist. This is just my opinon, and I’m sure some people here disagree (Hi, @raymie), but I think it’s a reasonable rule of thumb to help filter out all the made-up names out there.


Immediately, a workaround comes to mind: teach the name (separately) to two people whom you know will talk to each other.


My midge example doesn’t sound like a problem? There are over 20,000 species of non biting midge. For a species of midge endemic to only one small group of islands in the world to be just called common midge is unacceptable in my opinion. If you really want to go further though, there are biting, gall, fairy, phantom and so many other groups of different families of other midges. So probably more like 30k-40k midge species worldwide.

Looking at New Zealand midges which i am unfamiliar about. I am not surprised at all over 25 different genera of just non biting midge alone call New Zealand home. That name literally might not be even true in New Zealand about it being common.

From my point of view, this is like calling the Hawaiian honeycreeper (A bird only found in Hawaii) Common Bird.

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If you go to that much trouble, then I won’t even mind, I’ll just be impressed. :+1:



The rules are the rules except when they aren’t.

I am aware that demonstrably established vernacular names are already removed by some curators if the curators deem them to be confusing for the great unwashed. There’s no policy for that, it’s just done and for names in actual use by regular folks not for names made up by functionaries having a laugh after too many hours in front of their screens. I think that’s a problem but others disagree.

If I understand this properly, the issue here is problematic because someone other than a yokel came up with the name. The policy here is that vernacular names can only be invented by someone in a position of ostensible authority. Leaving aside the obvious contradiction of any literate definition of “vernacular” inherent in the policy, it sure seems to me like iNat has to choose whether to use the stupid name or ditch the policy for something that isn’t both anti-historical and elitist.


No, Lupinus malacophyllus.

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Do you know how bad the miss identification situation is for Chironomidae? It is so large and pervasive literally almost everyone in this conversation has had miss identified midges themselves. I remember going through your midges a week ago. Inaccuracy rates for some species were reaching nearly 100%. The “Common Midge” being IDed in the US, Europe, Asia, etc when its a New Zealand endemic is not helping at all. Names have impacts.