Differences between Capitalisation of Species Names

Hi there,

First of all, I’m not sure whether this should have gone in General, Feature Requests or Bug Reports, so if this is in the wrong section, please feel free to move it!

Basically, I noticed recently (since I’ve just started uploading plant observations), that a number of plants have uncapitalised names. “common heather” or “common bilberry” are good examples of this:

What’s interesting, and arguably a bug (or at least an inconsistency) is that on the website these names seem to be automatically capitalised:

See a comparison above. This is definitely automatic capitalisation, as the taxonomy page lists only uncapitalised english names:

So, my bug reports/questions/feature requests are below:

  1. First of all, it seems inconsistent not to have automatic capitalisation on the iPhone app when it exists on the website. Is this a bug?

  2. Second, is there a way that I can update the capitalisation of the English names on certain species without just making a new duplicate name? I don’t want to have “common heather” and “Common Heather” both listed, nor do I think that is allowed.

Basically, all this stems from me being really particular about the grammar of my observation list… I like consistency! :P

Any help, thoughts or fixes would be much appreciated.



I have noticed this inconsistency in capitalization as well, so I am interested in responses to this topic and possible fixes.


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In the Curator Guide help pages it is stated that anyone can add a name, but I think that someone indicated recently that that has changed… only curators can add now?

Anyway… in those same pages it states what SHOULD be done for capitalisation on common names:



Common names for animals should be entered in title case with each word starting with a capital letter (e.g. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna) but not the second part of adjectival hyphenated words (e.g. Sulphur-crested Cockatoo).

Common names for plants, fungi, and other non-animal taxa should be entered in lowercase (e.g. spotted gum) except for proper nouns, which should start with a capital letter wherever they appear (e.g.Tasmanian blue gum).

NOTE: For reasons of style, iNaturalist often automatically displays common names in title case. However, common names should never be entered in sentence case (e.g. it would be entered as “mountain grey gum” not “Mountain grey gum”).


Recently Tony? wrote that automatically capitalised: is only true on the website.

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Yes, the website does change the case in places, but the app doesn’t. The app is intended to be small so that it can run on portable devices (eg phones), so it won’t have such cosmetic niceties built in. At least that’s how I interpret it!


Totally different subject, but the difference in how names are capitalized between animals and plants always bothers me.

Either the names of living things should be capitalized or not, it seems biased to capitalize one branch of life but not another.

Obviously not an iNat issue though.


Yeah, I think it is to do with different rules* between botany and zoology

[edit - not rules but conventions]

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That’s really interesting, and not something I knew about. There is definitely inconsisency though - check out how “Bog Asphodel” is capitalised in title case on the first image I uploaded, even though it should be “bog asphodel” according to those rules (which, @earthknight, I also agree is super weird and aesthetically annoying)… Perhaps this should be moved to a feature request, to automatically change names to title case on the app too? That would remove any visible issue with people inputing names in different formats.

Is this just on the iPhone app, or is this inconsistency with the Android app as well?

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With the question of common names, it is not a different rule between botany and zoology, it is a different convention.


I was trying to think of the word! Thankyou!

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Perhaps then a better option would be to automatically capitalise based on this convention then? The thing that prompted this thread was the inconsistency (between, say “Bog Asphodel” and “common heather”). If the website and app appied the same rules, capitalising or not based on set conventions, that would work well.

Alternatively, if it was possible for individuals to ‘correct’ things that don’t match the convention, that could also work?

It seems like a trivial thing, but whether and how to capitalize common names seems to trigger strong disagreements.

I prefer capitalizing all the words that comprise a common name, especially if it is a standardized English (or another language) name. Some folks prefer just capitalizing the first word in the name (e.g., Gray fox).

For example, here in North America a Green Frog is a species but a green frog might just be a frog that is green. I think the capitalization helps make clear we are talking about a particular species, subspecies, or another taxon.


Enter as lower case – the system can automatically capitalize the first letter of any word, but it can’t do the reverse (e.g. Savannah sparrow vs. saltmarsh sparrow, it wouldn’t be able to tell that Savannah should stay capitalized). This is the only way to satisfy both sides of the debate.

Programming to replace a lower case with capital is very easy compared to manually going through and changing all the names, only to be “corrected” by someone with the other opinion.


A note for other languages:
In Bulgarian and most other (if not all) Slavic languages and probably many other languages - if there is capitalization, it’s only of the first letter of the name, no matter how many words it’s made of.
i.e. Agrius convolvuli is Поветицова вечерница in Bulgarian but Bulgarian names are (mostly) in title case around the web site. The same applies to titles (of pages, sections, etc) - in Bulgarian and other Slavic languages, titles are written with only the first letter (of the first word) capitalized but all words get auto-capitalized in many places on the site. It would be nice, especially for the names of organisms, if English capitalization is not applied for certain (probably many) languages


Thank you! That has always been my argument as well, and I have occasionally been confused by authors who don’t capitalize common names at all.

I also didn’t know about the different treatments of common name capitalization between zoology and botany, and now it’s bothering me that it’s A Thing.


Virtually every programming language that has text manipulation libraries has a UCase, LCase and ProperCase function (or some named variant thereof), switching from all lower to proper case is no more easy or difficult than going the other way, or any combination of the 3.

I think the difficulty for automated case manipulation in common names is more about how to sense the proper nouns in the cases for botany.

When I went looking for the site guidelines on common names (the section I copied in above) I initially went to the “add a name” page, thinking I had seen it in there. Given it does have a sizeable spiel about adding names, I am surprised it makes no mention of capitalisation:


  • Try to add names that have been used elsewhere. Please don’t invent new names.
  • Don’t add duplicate names, e.g. don’t name numerous hawks “hawk”
  • For higher level taxa, try to use names that include all descendants, like “herons and allies” or “heath family”
  • Don’t add information that is not the name, e.g. paranthetical information about how you think the name should be used
  • New lexicons should be in English. Please don’t add translated language names like “French, Français” because that will just make it hard or impossible for us to show localized names for people who use the site in different languages.
  • Common names associated with translated languages will appear as the default common name for that language (barring the effect of place preferences, name ordering, etc.). Learn more about translation

Yes, there was (in my opinion) a way too long (102 messages) and emotional discussion about this on our Google Group. We decided to institute a common treatment of capitalization on the website and moved on. So it’s not a bug that the common names aren’t capitalized in the app. Frankly, that type of discussion was something we wanted to get away from when we established a new forum here. Whether or not that’s been successful, I guess we’ll see.

If you feel strongly that the apps should adhere to this capitalization scheme, feel free to make a feature request but it’s likely not something that will become a priority for our development team.

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Can we get a summarised form of the capitalisation guidelines from the curator help pages put into the “Add a name” guidelines? It strikes me as odd that it is not included there… even factoring in the “not really wanting to get too bogged down with them” position, which I agree with wholeheartedly!


We don’t have a guideline for how a common name should be capitalized when it’s entered, we display all common names the same way on the website regardless of how it’s entered. But I can add in what scheme we use when displaying common names.