Differences between Capitalisation of Species Names

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.


Page needs updating then :)

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Did not see the Google Group discussion. I don’t feel THAT strongly, but capitalization is a convention I like to see and I use it in publications.

It’s interesting though that in my iPhone app, all animals and some plants have all words capitalized. Other plants are not (screwbean mesquite) or only the first word is capitalized (Scarlet hedgehog cactus). Even within a plant genus it varies: Royal Penstemon vs. firecracker penstemon.

The whole range of bio-nomenclatural-diversity.


Anyone can add common names, not everyone knows or follows the correct capitalization convention (all lower except for Proper nouns) for plants.

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Yes, looks like the appropriate guidelines are already there, and I think they should remain there, given that common names still display “as-is” in the apps. In fact, I would encourage that these guidelines also be linked directly from the Adding Names guidelines on the taxon pages. From the Curator Guide:


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).

The issue I think @silversea_starsong was getting at is recognition of proper nouns to capitalize in situations where the default is otherwise all lower-case, as with the botanical convention.

Moving this to the General category, since current capitalization behavior on iNaturalist is by design.


The problem @cmcheatle is that if you have a name like the common purple African fly-eater, that is easy to ProperCase() to the Common Purple African Fly-Eater, but to go in reverse the LCase() function has no way of knowing it mustn’t de-capitalise African. Finding a way to do so would be complicated. Not only is the list of proper nouns huge (people’s names as well as countries and regions) but there are ambiguous words like Black and White, which can be names or just colours.


By way of comparison, this has also been a hugely inflammatory issue on Wikipedia, where some contributors whose principal interest is in enforcing style consistency have spent years pushing decapitalization of common names and the like, as “specialist styles” unsuitable for a general encyclopedia. It did quite a bit of damage to WikiProject Birds some years back, where at least one contributor quit over the issue, and I’d prefer not to unleash anything similar here.


Agreed. I don’t think this should rise to the level of a capital offense.


this is not a case I’m going to lower to…


I guess it boils down to the letter of the law… :P

Man, unleashed a can of worms here clearly! To be perfectly honest, I don’t mind too much which convention is followed, as long as it’s followed consistently, which is why the biggest bugbear for me in all this is the difference between the app and the website. Clearly people don’t mind the website doing automatic capitalisation (as that seems to be a pretty well-established feature), so in my head it makes sense to roll that out on the apps too.

However, as one of the staff said above that wouldn’t likely be a priority (understandably, this isn’t that big a deal!). That being said, I think I will put a feature request in for that consistency, so other people can get behind it if they like. :)


No, not the case. It’s just easier to code and not worth rediscussing considering past conversations. :upside_down_face: