Definition of made up common names

The curator guide is clear that common names on iNat should be based on use outside iNat, and we should not make up common names on iNat. However, I’ve seen 2 interpretations of when a name should be deleted under this rule:

Interpretation 1: This rule means that a name should be deleted if no use outside iNat exists, if use exists outside iNat deletion is not required under this rule (deletion for other reasons may or may not be justified, that being a separate issue)

Interpretation 2: This rule means that a name should be deleted if it originated on iNat, even if external sources have since adopted it

Basically the situation that is unclear is if a name is made up on iNat in 2015, then external sources adopt it in 2020, now in 2024 is it OK because in 2024 external sources exist? Or should a curator encountering this name in 2024 (eg in a flag) delete it because it originated as a violation of iNat naming rules in 2015?

I believe interpretation 1 is the one that makes sense, a name existing only in iNat is confusing and problematic, but so is iNat not giving results on a search for a name used elsewhere. I see little benefit from excluding names that are in use simply due to their origin, and believe the criteria for deletions should be based on current existence of external sources, not the origin of the name, but I want to see what others think, and I also hope that the curator guide can eventually be clarified to say directly which is the correct interpretation

I would like to keep this focused on when a name should be deleted for breaking the rule on made up names. Other reasons for name deletion are a separate topic, and it is not my intention to imply that a name which does not violate the rule on made up names cannot be deleted for some other reason


I agree with you, interpretation 1 makes the most sense.


Yep, the whole point is for them to emerge and stabilize. Common names are kind of by definition a bit more organic. At least in mycology, we have little hope of achieving stable common names without accepting that they do so in a bit of an unruly, organic manner.

Excluding them because of their origin after they’ve succeeded in achieving currency would be painfully counter-productive.


There are cases where websites mass/blindly propogated names from iNaturalist. I feel no hesitation removing ones in those situations.


I agree it makes little sense to remove if they are now in general usage.
Curious what the example is though here?

The comic seems to me sort of like how common names would have evolved in the real world though. So it seems incomparable to hold up as an example incorrect citations vs the development of common names. They are chalk and cheese. Common names can never really be incorrect per se, they’re not rigid factual vessels - that’s what the scientific names are for ( in theory ).


I come from a different camp on this question. Even acknowledging the long-held guidance (I hesitate to say “rule”) that common names should not be invented on iNaturalist–which I support–there is much truth to the above phrasing that common names arise “organically”. Well, iNaturalist is organic in that linguistic sense. It is now one of the biggest “organs” of natural history study in the world.

More specifically–if you’ll pardon that expression–I have in the past erected informal common names in journal posts to discuss ongoing research I myself have been accomplishing. In these instances, I am, for better or worse, the expert on the taxa. Even explicitly recognizing that those probably went counter to iNat guidance at the time I uploaded the journal posts, I have gone on to publish my research formally, including the use of those common names which arose “organically” (read: casually) on iNaturalist. I invented them. I used them on iNat prior to “formal” publication. I published them properly. They now exist in the primary literature. Would anyone dare to go back and delete these common names which a qualified researcher (me) used informally on iNat prior to publication? That would be a travesty.

I have long argued that iNaturalist now has sufficient presence in the world of natural history investigation that it constitutes a suitable location for at least the informal discussion and proposal of ideas–including common names–which may subsequently take formal shape in the primary literature. An iNat journal post is not primary literature, but it offers a great format to initiate such ideas.


I should have specified that I am referring to “independant” sources rather than just “external” ones, sources that are automated to copy from iNat exist and are not what am referring to as “external soruces”

I disagree that the xkcd comic is relevant here, since a common name is very different than a fact, a fact does not become true by being repeated extensively, but a common name does become real by being repeated extensively

The rule against made up names only applies to common names being added to taxa using the “Add a Name” button in the taxonomy tab, you are free to call a species anything you want in journal posts


This post is not inspired by a specific name, but a broader disagreement about what the rule is that affects many names.

My reference was to people adding made-up common names from iNaturalist to Wikipedia/Wikidata and then citing Wikipedia as a good source for them on other websites (eg blog posts) and iNat itself (in flag discussions).


Wikipedia pages aren’t really good sources IMO unless there is a reference to some other source, what you describe would actually be someone violating Wikipedia’s rules, and should be removed from wikipedia


Yes, which I have done hundreds of times (not sourceless though, their source was user-generated content from iNat)


Let’s say someone on iNaturalist has their own nickname or just translates a name from Latin to English and adds it as a name for a species on iNat. Both of those approaches tend to produce overly simple or convoluted or otherwise awkward names.

If someone else references that iNat name for a personal blog post or a Wikipedia article then I wouldn’t want to accept that circular source as evidence of the name being used “in the wild”.

On the other hand if an iNat user like @gcwarbler puts thought into good common names for his taxa of interest then I don’t really care where they get published; it’s probably beneficial for those species to have common names and I doubt anyone else is going to think of any better.

So my personal preference is subjective and contextual based on the quality of the name and its source, but that isn’t scalable. I don’t know if there needs to be clear standards about what sources work but I think it does depend on the quality of the source and how much fact-checking went into its production. Even published field guides might sometimes lump species together into vague categories, only list the scientific name of the most common, and label the whole group something vague that applies to all of them.

Generally when I’m searching for common names I’ll trust peer-reviewed articles, taxonomy databases (including BugGuide which tends to have some standards), field guides… beyond that it depends on how well I feel like the source is likely to represent a whole group of people vs. just one person who wanted to apply a label to this bug they found yesterday.


I think excluding personal blogs and unsoruced Wikipedia names is reasonable, what I disagree with is using the taxon history to say a name was invented on iNat before the other source published it, therefore the other source doesn’t count

I think a source should or shouldn’t count based on the source (it’s OK to decide this on a case by case bases, a firm rule is likely unwieldy), not based on whether the name was added to iNat first

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Another aspect here (not sure if it was already addressed) is that sometimes you don’t know what the original source of an iNat name was. If there’s only one external source for the name, and it says it got the name from iNat, then that’s evidence that the “don’t invent common names” guideline was broken and justification for removing the name in my opinion.

On the other hand if it originated in an iNat journal but there’s now a network of external sources referencing each other then it would be fine.

What I’m saying is that once external sources are using a name, whether or not it originated as a rule violation shouldn’t matter

Yeah fair, I guess if a respectable source uses it then it can stand on its own.

What was going through my mind is that respectable sources are unlikely to be taking names from iNat; if there’s only one external source, citing iNat, then it’s usually not one with high standards. But if it was like an article from a specialist adopting an iNat name then cool. So yes still consistent with what you said earlier.

Websites and books about nature often do not cite sources for common names, the kind of situation I’m thinking of is a flag requesting deletion of a name on the grounds that the name was added to iNat in an earlier year than the creation of any book or website that uses the name, in this case some would argue that because the name started on iNat as a rule violation it still is a rule violation to include on iNat even now that other sources use it, and others, myself included, would argue that the name is OK now because it now has external sources

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Some Spanish common names for butterflies, in particular, look suspiciously like someone just translated the English common names. Arguably, this would be cultural imperialism, even if the name does subsequently come into general use.

If you see names that you think are based on translation and have no use outside iNat, flag them (flag the taxon, and mention the name as the reason).

Now once a name name is in use, I don’t see how the fact that it originated as a translation from another language is problematic?

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Is it part of the formal description of a new species to create a common name alongside the scientific one?