Common names from "not good enough" sources

I often use the term “vernacular name” since many of them aren’t all that common (yeah, different meanings of common).


If the species has a name that has been coined or selected from a few options by a committee or even an individual through some sort of “official” process and published, such as in a checklist, the term standard English name has been applied. Or whatever language this was done in (for some New World reptiles and amphibians there are, I believe, standard Spanish names). But that doesn’t exclude the use of common, vernacular, or colloquial names that might also be in use.

I should add that for many common names that have been in use for many years, an individual name is often applied to more than one similar species by the public. So the idea that we should just adopt a name that is already being used to apply to one species isn’t so simple.


Ah I see. I didn’t realise there were already four distinct terms. Interesting.
Do those four terms delineate successfully the existing differences in use?

No, they’re just alternative terms, maybe with varying degrees of “commonness.”


I think that “good enough” needs to be defined by the use to which vernacular names are put by iNat users. From the perspective of a new iNat user with an interest in biodiversity but no formal education in biology, vernacular/common names are of more importance than formal taxonomy. I’m pretty sure that the typical middle school kid assigned to a bioblitz will be starting with common names and it’s how they will navigate the site until they get to the point that scientific names matter/make sense.

I have degrees in biology that focus on fish and aquatic/marine life and I have some experience with other taxa, so I often use scientific names when I’m working with those familiar taxa. On iNat I’m mostly learning about other things (I have one fish observation) so I do a lot of searching with vernacular names. I’m occasionally surprised that things don’t pop up when I use a name that turns out to be an older, regional or otherwise unfashionable moniker.

I think it’s important that the common names filed on the observations reflect to the greatest possible extent the way new folks will refer to the stuff they observe. That means regional variation needs to be reflected and it means that vernacular names cannot be unique to single taxa on iNat, a position that I think contradicts the established practice but which is how the world is actually configured. If that causes some confusion it’s because the world is a confusing place. A disambiguation function can deal with conflicts. The practice which aids users to learn with the fewest hurdles should be the default, wherever possible.

The discussion in the topic posted by @liamragan regarding importing indigenous names is also something that should be considered. In the case where there is an indigenous name for a taxon and no other accepted common name the indigenous name should be the default common name. It works fine for moose.

I agree that inventing names is not something iNat should do.


But we can and should add all of them.


If users could all individually choose the common names that they are used to for themselves on their own observations only, it would be a great way to record all the common names actually in use worldwide (as opposed to doing it “by committee”) and thereby create a valuable linguistic record. Even I, as a person who speaks one of the most used languages on iNaturalist, would like to see common names on my own observations that are the ones I learned locally, so I can see how important this would be to people such as those on your island.


Hmm, that sounds like an interesting idea.

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I didn’t say we shouldn’t. I specifically suggested that we should, and that we should be more inclusive in doing so:

I’d advocate for including all the common names that are actually in use, even if they’re not used all that much or specific to a local area…

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Since you are relatively new to iNat (welcome!), and for the benefit of other readers, just want to make sure you are aware that you and any other user can add common names to any taxon in any language(s). Just use the Add a Name feature on the Taxonomy tab of the taxon page. Only curators can select a default display name for a taxon, but anyone can add names by which the taxon can be looked up.


But they can’t use it for their own observations, can they? “Fairy lantern” is already shown as a common name for Calochortus albus, but how can I get it onto my observations?

@jdmore Understood. I also understand that the addition may be temporary if flagged and determined to be bogus under iNat rules. I’m not entirely clear on how the rules about duplicate names apply.

This discussion includes a bunch of stuff that comes down to general principles rather than explanations of rules and I was tossing my 2 cents into the mix. Common names on iNat should reflect the way people interact with iNat would be the 10 words or less version.


Correct, the common name that displays with an observation will be the one set as the taxon default by a curator in the appropriate language (or the first or only one in that language, if a curator has not otherwise intervened).

It’s unlikely, based on past discussion threads, that iNat will ever build support for “personal taxonomies.”


But you can type in any of them and they will work, I believe it’s the main thing, as uploading is where/when you use common names anyway.


Personally, coming from the plant world, I consider avoidance of duplicate common names more of a guideline than a hard rule, for the simple reason that plant common names have not followed that rule from time immemorial. It’s nice to avoid when possible, but sometimes is impossible.


I guess it’s a trade-off and inclusivity loses, because:


Common names can duplicate, e.g. I can add Russian common name “реполов” to the bunch of passerid birds it refers to and nobody will delete them, hopefully, though it won’t be “main” as species already got more scientifically-pleasant names.


@jdmore @melodi_96 Thanks.

Duplicate common names are a fact of life. From a purely functional perspective the design of iNat needs to reflect that.


Yep, and personally I would love to be able to map my own personal name preferences to the iNat taxonomic backbone, for all kinds of uses and reason. But multiply that by a million more users, and one can understand how that would impact performance of the site overall.


This is a pretty fascinating topic, and I generally agree with @pmeisenheimer’s take that “Common names on iNat should reflect the way people interact with iNat” So perhaps that places me in the more “liberal” wing in that I’d be in favor of allowing a large diversity of common names as long as they are used “seriously” by even a small group of people.

What do I mean by “seriously”? I think the “lumpy horse” example is a good one. Lots of folks may refer to camels as lumpy horses…it’s pretty funny! We’ve also got “trash pandas” and in my own herp community lots of folks use “danger noodle”, “spicy noodle”, “nope rope”, and others for venomous “sneks”. I think these can be funny too, and they are in very common use. People know what they mean (to some extent anyways). But I wouldn’t support including them on iNat.

Why? First, using these names, especially ones that include other organism’s names in them, could lead to search problems (if one is looking for “horse” and sees “lumpy horse” for instance). Especially for people who are less familiar users or not native speakers of whatever the language is that the common name is in, this could be a difficulty/barrier to use. Second, having names like this would probably encourage people to add funny/amusing names which don’t add much to iNat. For instance, having “snek” as a common name for serpentes doesn’t add much, as anyone using “snek” would be able to use “snake”. A surge in less seriously used common names or ones that don’t “add much value” to iNat could actively impede understanding.

I don’t know that there’s any perfect set of rules that can be applied to common names, just some considerations. I think that there’s always going to be something of a judgment call about how appropriate it is to include any common name, but having some standard guidelines might be beneficial. For instance, I’d support guidelines that leans towards including common names in languages/from communities that aren’t yet included for any given species.