Definition of made up common names

I’ve done that and, ten months later, am still awaiting a response.

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No, it is not


Some journals that regularly publish new species accept/encourage/(require?) authors to designate a common name as part of the formal description, but that’s a policy of those journals and not mandated by any nomenclatural code. All of the cases where I’ve seen a proposed common name in the formal description are for vertebrates.


There’s local conventions as well. Most if not all new invertebrate and fish descriptions from Japan that I have read propose Japanese common names, but it’s not something that I’ve seen elsewhere.

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I have seen it in one botany journal as well.


there are a few from Australia, for example some Mosquitoes a never seen the ‘common name’ off inaturalist

I also agree with interpretation 1.

I can relate a somewhat different scenario that’s still in progress. It turns out we have a cryptic species of Tiger Swallowtail in Eastern North America that is not yet described. I was one of the first to point out that something fishy was going on, but a professional entomologist was the one who did more detailed research (including DNA work) to determine that yeah, it looks like there’s a somewhat cryptic species in play. Because there were a number of us discussing this thing, and whether or not it really was a separate species, our group needed a name for it.
We had been using one informal/common name for this thing while investigations were going on, but once the concept started to firm up, we decided it was not a very good one. We had a brief discussion of alternatives, and I suggested one which was subsequently adopted. I’m not sure where it was first used publicly - it might have been in a discussion paper about the new species (not a formal description), or it might have been in comments in iNat observations of it. The species is still not formally described, and has no official scientific name. Therefore, we don’t have a taxon for it in iNat - we’ve coopted a hybrid taxon for it (for now). But in comments in observations, we use the common name I coined. That name has been used on websites and publications I’m involved with, and seems to have caught on with some folks from outside our area. If someone were to search for where the name first appeared “in print”, they may turn up the comments in iNat observations. I have no idea when this thing is going to get a formal description, but I hope that when that happens, whoever describes it will continue with the common name that we’ve been using.

I guess my point is that although the common name wasn’t created on iNat, it might appear that way to someone looking backward (without access to private emails where the name was hashed out). In any case, iNat certainly had a major role in popularizing the name.


This is a good example/case study of how common names are often created, and I don’t see any issue with it. I do think that it differs from the most common “created on iNat” scenario which is generally that someone wanted a species that didn’t have a common name to have one and took it upon themselves to create one that they liked that and add it. This is clearly out of bounds.

However, in your example, this more organic process is exactly how many new common names are created, it is just that the discussions happened to take place on iNat (as opposed to in emails, at conferences, over a beer, etc.). I wouldn’t want to disqualify names that arose organically in this way just because some of the process happened on iNat. I don’t think that there would generally be an issue with a name resulting from this process because there are other citable sources for it (and iNat comments and observations don’t generally show up in web searches).


Searching incognito brings up iNat Forum posts.

I use Google/search engines to search for forum posts everyday as I find them better than Discourse’s built in search - no need to be in an incognito window to do this.

However, these aren’t iNat comments/observations.

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Serowe Lashes or blepharis petalidioides ?

I have invented an English name for a plant that is possibly endemic to the village and the surrounding area where I live, called Serowe, in Central Botswana. The plant was described about 24 years ago and given a Latin name based on two dried up, desicated herbarium specimens which lacked flowers.There is nothing written later about it in the scientific literature. It wasnt given an English name, then. The first pics of the fresh plants with flowers appear on iNaturalist. They are here in a project.

I called the plants Serowe Lashes in English since Blepharis are often called lashes and they are found in the Serowe area.
It’s a convenient name for English speakers in my village or other non-Latin or non-Setswana speaking iNaturalists that might come across these plants, though there is a Setswana name- Setoto, which means corpse.
I put the English name I invented on iNaturalist.
Should I now remove it ? If I do, then the plant has no English name at all ( as far as I am aware !).
How do common, non-latin names get started ? Dont they need to be invented ?

@dianastuder @insectobserver123 @plantdrew @jasonhernandez74


I agree that this type of process is definitely one way in which common names begin and is totally reasonable in that sense. However, I would say that this name probably shouldn’t be on iNat currently unless it is already or becomes fairly widely adopted or is used by/in some other source. The argument that “I use the name, therefore it is in use and should be added to iNat” could be used in any situation, even by someone who just wanted to create and propagate a variety of names.

It is totally fine if a taxon has no English name in use for it to not have a name in English on iNat. In fact, the majority of species in the world don’t have English common names (or common names in any language).


English is already a second language for the people living in Serowe. I would encourage you to add / leave those common names in English and Setswana.
@mattstata is your main identifier for the species - I wonder what he thinks?

Difficult enough for new iNatters to find the binomial they heard - and now have to spell, exactly right in every single letter. I often see placeholders I can ‘hear’ and then find, due to a single letter typo. Botanese is a foreign language to all of us.

I would not set out to create ‘common’ names for everything. Madagascan silk angels - are newly found, being described, and I hope that common name is published.


How about a situation where a language naturally works by agglutination? I give here an example in a constructed language, Láadan, but there are natural languages that work the same way.

In Láadan, lelith means algae.

Láadan was designed such that new words can always be created by descriptively combining existing words; for instance, “owl,” in the official dictionary, is húumid, which is a very straightforward combination of mid, which means animal, with the onomotopoetic sound húu. Literally, “hoot-animal.” Most words for different kinds of animals in the official dictionary end with -mid for this reason, and literally mean [adjective]-animal.

Therefore, someone thinking in Láadan, on seeing lelith (algae) that is laya (red) in color would naturally call it layalelith, even though there is no official word for Rhodophyta specifically.

In languages that work this way, it seems that it would be hard to say definitively that a common name formed in this manner was “made up.”


They do have to be invented, but iNat rules require that they only be added to iNat if they have already been invented, adding them to iNat is not how they are supposed to be invented

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Ideally the common name would be in a published field guide.
Or the scientist who wrote the formal description would have volunteered a common name.

But how much of iNat does not HAVE a published field guide.
Plants of Botswana - probably. But including THIS particular species?
iNat rules need a little bit of flexibility and common sense.


A fun and tangentially related story:


Found a shark on iNat with a common name beginning with zooz