Data on history of common name changes

Is it possible to retrieve in any form the history of common name changes on iNat? This should include at minimum the date of addition of each common name, the flags and how they were resolved (deleted, modified, no change), and the common names currently used as default iNat name. These records should be anonymized - i.e. no names of people involved in name creation or flagging. Some parametres of the iNat users who suggested the names (are they curators? approximately how long on iNat, rounded number of identifications or observations) would be great to understand the phenomenon of novel name creation but this is likely asking for too much.

If an automatized retrieval is not possible would you be eager to manually build a table for your favorite taxon which summarizes common names that were flagged as invented on iNat? FYI, I started to build such table for termites and likely one third of common English names, perhaps much more, were invented on iNat or are names used by a single person (i.e. not fitting the unfortunately vague definition of acceptable common name on iNat). I suspect it is similar in other species-rich groups - e.g. arthropods in general.

WHY: As demonstrated by discussion in multiple iNat forums (most recently here), it remains unclear to what extent common names are being invented by iNat users. The opinions greatly vary between “almost no common names being invented by iNat users” to “few common names being invented and they are good” and as far as “large number of confusing/misleading common names being invented on iNat”. The disagreement of opinions limits a constructive debate on invention of common names on iNat (which is disallowed by guidelines yet no mechanisms exist to control it except for manual curation of offending names).


not sure what you hope to achieve in the end with this kind of effort, but you can get current common names from the periodic export file that goes to GBIF: here’s an example of a few records from the English file:

taxon_id vernacularName language locality countryCode source lexicon contributor created
649 Black Francolin en Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2019. Downloaded from English 2008-03-13T02:36:23Z
685 Gray Francolin en United States US Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2019. Downloaded from English Riaan Stals 2008-03-13T02:36:28Z
685 Grey Francolin en India IN FA Bisby, YR Roskov, MA Ruggiero, TM Orrell, LE Paglinawan, PW Brewer, N Bailly, J van Hertum, eds (2007). Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2007 Annual Checklist Taxonomic Classification. CD-ROM; Species 2000: Reading, U.K. English Riaan Stals 2008-03-13T02:36:28Z

if you want to look through flags, you can just look at the flag history on a particular taxon. or if you want to look for multiple taxa at once, you could filter in the Flags page. for example, here are flags on bird taxa:✓&flagger_type=any&flagger_name=&flagger_user_id=&user_name=&user_id=&flaggable_type=Taxon&taxon_name=Birds&taxon_id=3&deleted=any&flags[]=inappropriate&flags[]=other&reason_query=&resolved=any&resolver_name=&resolver_user_id=&commit=Filter&utf8=✓&flagger_user_id=&commit=Filter.

i don’t think there’s a specific category for invented names as a reason for flagging. so you’ll just have to dig through to find those, assuming someone attempted to highlight/resolve such a conflict by flagging the situation.


I disagree that name deletions and changes should be anonymous. This is a community site using community contributions and curation, and we are all striving for the best possible practices. It also means that when names are deleted by users who simply don’t like them, something can be done about it. There have been many times where regularly used common names have been removed due to the opinion of someone from another area that it isn’t the right name, or because they disagree with the choice of spelling or wording.


The name deletions are not anonymous - user names are, I believe, recorded and curators can see them. I said “anonymous” because for the purpose I outlined above, I think anonymizing the existing data is necessary to prevent complaints. Whether names of users who changed the common organism name should be publicly visible is a bit separate discussion.

Thanks, I’m aware where to source flags and common names. However it does not include the history of common name changes.

Because iNat guideline is being violated at an unknown scale and the opinions vary from “no problem” to “huge problem”. Gathering some data to back those opinions seems sensible.

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I ran into this with a beetle species, Sandalus niger or the “cedar beetle” today. Most online sources (i.e. BugGuide, universities, etc.) seem to use this name, but it also goes by the name “cicada parasite beetle.” Both names are in the iNaturalist English lexicon, but neither are active. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, maybe due to a perceived inaccuracy? Regardless, there’s not a current alternative and both are widely accepted, so I can’t really understand why there’s not at least one “extant” name on the site (currently).

This concerns a particular species. Please flag it and explain the problem, curators will take care of it. It is likely an overlook by curators if the names are being used.

Oh no, I understand that and I’m not attempting to hijack your topic, but rather support it. It would be interesting to see whether or not there is an implicit reason common names such as these aren’t in use (i.e. a curator disabling them for a taxonomic or ecological reason). Simply another reason the history of the authenticity of common name changes may be useful to display; to ensure the validity of the existing common names from another angle.


Sure, I did not mean you hijack it, sorry for being blatant. I did nod understand that you give it as an example and I thought you want to resolve this particular problem. This is a good example and I do not know why, if a valid common name is available in iNat database, it is not used. Might be bug or a an opinion of curator.

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Not really, unless you look through resolved flags and deduce situations from the comments. Maybe it’s possible for staff but not curators. This is all we can see:

If it’s deleted there is no record that curators have access to.

If you’re always adding the same comment to a flag, you could search your comments.

Keep in mind that this is also a guidline:
Assume people mean well.


There was no lexicon attached. I’ve fixed that. It looks like it was an error on the part of the user who added them in 2014.


Yes, I acknowledge that and I hope that most people will not see this as “another attack of a scientist on common names and their proponents” - because it is not. I assume that common name invention is not an act of vandalism or other kind of bad intent. Perhaps I should mention it from time to time because clearly many people perceive it as a personal attack.

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I think this type of analysis could help answer your question (but would be a lot of work). However, I would suggest you would definitely not want to anonymize the data when you analyze it. The reason why is that you’d want to know if the issue with bad/intentionally new common names was due to multiple users or one bad actor.

For instance, 20 made up common names from 20 different users is a very different situation from 20 made up common names from 1 user. The first case would indicate a more widespread problem that needed to be addressed systematically. The second case is an abuse of the system by one user who would either need to be educated or prevented from adding new common names in the future.

If you did the analysis you could always anonymize the usernames when you presented the results to avoid calling out specific users, but you would want to know those usernames when analyzing and interpreting the data.


i doubt this kind of thing exists. i don’t see anything in the system database structure that suggests that the system is keeping an explicit history of changes. at best, it notes create user+datetime and last update user+datetime for any given taxon name.

even if there was a more detailed history, i doubt that it would be stored with a change reason. so it’s not like you would be able to pick out changes or deletions of “invented” names without some really detailed research. in terms of trying to look for reasoning, looking at flag history is probably the way to go, as ugly as that process is.

i don’t see why you need to go back through history to get evidence. just look at what the existing “problem” is on current names. that’s really all that’s relevant anyway. more actionable: “x out of y English common names appear to be made up. these are the problem taxa.” less actionable (since the problem no longer exists): “x taxon names were changes in the past due to made up names.”


Thanks! I was hoping for few things:

  1. check how many times in the history of iNat common names were discarded. This is is perhaps the more important number to back the discussion on the extent of novel name invention on iNat. This is an incomplete count as it will include only the detected novel names that were discarded through curators actions (and from my termite experience on iNat, large number of invented common names survive). Also, there could be other reasons for discarding a common name.

  2. get dates of origins of common names on iNat and then track their appearance elsewhere online to infer how often is iNat the source of these names. This should show the dynamics of propagation of common names from iNat into the outer world: how many names becomes established after being invented on iNat, how much time does it take for a common name to to be assimilated by other online outlets.

You can see that I do not have absolutely clear idea of the analyses that could be done - I was just sure that if the timeline of common name changes would exist, it would be a treasure trove:)


It might also be helpful to note that many common names are imported in bulk. If this is the case, the fields in my above screen shot would be filled out. Sometimes these are obviously incorrect and should be deleted, but weren’t exactly added by any user (although the user who imported them will be identified as the creator).

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If the common name is a ‘new’ word - Google has a tool to see when a word was first used, and then to see usage over time.

Do you have a link to the tool? I’m not aware of anything like this. Thanks!

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Interesting. Would it be an automatic import from a trusted source or rather a bulk import initiated by a user from a user-provided or user-selected database? I’d assume that if this is an user-initiated import it should be the user’s (curator’s) duty to check the what was imported. Does actually iNat have automatized (e.g. periodical) retrievals of common names from some selected databases?

You can just Google any definition. Not sure if there’s anything special about new words though and no idea where the data is from.
Screen Shot 2021-11-02 at 12.35.20 PM

I’m not super sure how it works, but all the ones I’ve seen are from books (mostly) or other external databases. I don’t know if regular users can import them or if it has to be staff. I know this has come up in the forum before so maybe look around a bit.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case, but I could be wrong.

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