Differences between Capitalisation of Species Names

Common names are useful for people who are new to any large taxon. As people get deeper and deeper into a subject they usually start learning the scientific names, which, by the way, are not all Latin-based.


Agreed. But something to keep in mind is that there is a lot of systematic and taxonomic revision going on in many groups of organisms thanks to advances in biomolecular techniques. In some cases both the genus and species name for an organism have changed. The common name, especially if it is a standardized name, is helpful to identify what organism we are talking about within a taxon that is going through a lot of binomial flux (although even the standardized common name sometimes has to be revised to track species splits and generic reassignments).


It does make it a bit daunting and confusing as a complete amateur to begin learning the scientific names, before reading this thread I had no idea about the different capitalizations having specific meaning!


When using scientific names, the genus name always starts with a capital letter, and the species name always starts with a lowercase letter.

In handwritten text, the genus and species name are underlined. Normally in typed or printed text, both the genus and species names are rendered in italics, but that is not the case on iNaturalist.

For all scientific names of taxa higher than genus, the first letter is capitalized but no italics are used.

As for common names, as I said before, there is currently no consensus between zoologists and botanists as to how to render common names, and unlike scientific names, there is no professional body or set of rules that govern the use of common names.

However generally there are some loose conventions about how to render common names within certain groups of organisms.

I personally would like to see all common names of all organisms rendered in the same way, not only on iNat, but everywhere, but unfortunately it is very difficult to get all the different specialists to agree to this idea. However I suspect this will happen at some point in the not-far-distant future, both here and elsewhere.

Even though there are a lot of drawbacks with the routine use of common names, and also a bunch of challenges with using scientific names, I feel that common names are extremely useful when you first start learning a new phylum.


I agree! I’d like to be more knowledgeable about the scientific names but those aren’t commonly taught in school unfortunately. I’ve been learning a lot from just using this site casually though!

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The species name includes the genus, e.g. Lynx rufus. The “rufus” part is called the specific epithet. “Rufus” by itself doesn’t tell you which species exactly since there is also Tachyphonus rufus, a tanager. The specific epithet does get used as shorthand sometimes when talking to people that know the context (pointing at a paw print).

One of the goals of binomial nomenclature was to force the author to classify the organism when naming it. One immediate benefit is knowing something about the lineage relationships with the names alone. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) and Canada lynxes (Lynx canadensis) and more closely related than mountain lions (Puma concolor).

Some people complain about the names changing but I tend to think of it as meaning we know more about the taxa now than we did before.


Every scientific name for a species or subspecies and all the taxonomic levels above that is a hypothesis about the relationship of that organism to others, based on the artificial Linnaean classification system. As such, it is subject to revision based on new and better information and on changing philosophies of what a particular taxon is. I don’t get too excited about changes in a scientific name. If you wait a while, it just might change back.

In a way, the common name (despite being unofficial in many cases and variable by region and language) might be the more stable of the two.


I would rather use and have available names “based on new and better information and on changing philosophies” than a name that is static.

(Boy, did this comment lead me down a rabbit hole. Googled “value of stability” and found this. https://somaweb.org/w/sub/BNW_CostOfStability.html)
“The novel Brave New World shows that in order for a utopian society to
achieve a state of stability, a loss of individuality, and the undoing of
Mother Nature must occur.” I guess I’m comfortable with the instability of nature.

I’m going to stop now. We’ve left capitalization far behind.

Not to repeat myself but there really is an easy way, right?

  1. Enter all names as lowercase on taxon pages.
  2. Make iNat capitalize all instances of the name. Bonus: whether a user chooses to “capitalize” or not in their profile.
  3. Force capitals wherever they are needed (title, header, start of a sentence).

Result: lowercase is available for lowercase users, capitalization can be applied where needed and for people who prefer uppercase.


but proper nouns will not be capitalised for plants etc, and if you just capitalise the whole name then it is contrary to the current convention for those. So No… there really isn’t an easy way. Perhaps that could be implemented, and in the lowercase entered name, the proper nouns could be capitalised, and then the system knows that if it is entered with a capital then it is always a capital. And maybe a curator can review all entered names to check them for being entered correctly, and we are back to being “not easy” again.


Maybe this could be a solution? Just let a user turn on or off Auto-capitalisation to sentence case?

As an aside, here’s a link to the feature request I put up:

Yes…the assumption is that the common names would be entered properly. Such as Savannah sparrow, not savannah sparrow, Richard’s pipit not richard’s pipit.

Hi, just a note on Czech common names and their capitalization.

Much like with scientific names, we use binominal names for most of the species and trinominal for subspecies, with names usually starting with same word name across whole genus or sometimes even family (there are of course some exceptions for some deeply rooted common names not corresponding with genus name) . When displaying the common name for example for Golden Ground Beetle Carabus auratus, it should be written either “střevlík zlatý” (when used in middle of sentence, but also in list of names) or “Střevlík zlatý” if you start the sentence or use it as an article title. The exception is for taxa named after some person, for example “střevlík Linnéův” for Carabus linnaei.

This follows both Czech grammar rules and recommendations for Czech common names for organisms. The way common names are used in iNaturalist, both “střevlík zlatý” and “Střevlík zlatý” is acceptable (personally I prefer the first one), but not “Střevlík Zlatý”. Same applies for Slovak language and probably some others.

I therefore propose to remove automatic capitalizing for certain languages (Czech, Slovak, possibly also Polish, Bulgarian and other Slavic languages), provided that the names in database are already formatted uniformly enough for these langauges.

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Except that (for birds at least) the convention is Savannah Sparrow … both words capitalized.

That is the convention in North America (and maybe other places). But go look at bird lists for the UK.

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