Duplicating common name for nominate subspecies

Several of the plant species I’ve been focusing on have recognized subspecies. Occasionally, each subspecies has an accepted common names that is distinct from the species-level common name.

More often, there are documented common names for the species (e.g. Dichelostemma capitatum = Blue Dicks) and for all but one of the subspecies (e.g. ssp. pauciflorum= Few-Flowered Blue Dicks; ssp. lacuna-vernalis = Vernal Pool Blue Dicks), but there’s no separate common name for the nominate subspecies (e.g. ssp. capitatum is just Blue Dicks).

My thinking is that it’s OK to reuse this common name for the subspecies as well as the parent. That way, iNat users who are intimidated by scientific names will see the common name for this taxon, which is usually the most commonly encountered subspecies. But before I add in those names I wanted to see if other curators have a view on this, either for North American plants or more broadly.

I believe this is discouraged due to the chances of users accidentally or inaccurately chosing the subspecies for records that either are not, or can not be validated to be the nominate.


I believe this is discouraged due to the chances of users accidentally or inaccurately choosing the subspecies for records that either are not, or can not be validated to be the nominate.

Is there a policy on that anywhere?

It seems to be a valid concern, but one that might be weighed against the chance that a user would actually choose a more accurate ID if they see all the options.

If we don’t allow common names to be duplicated for nominate subspecies (when that’s what used) we may exclude the nominate subspecies from consideration. A lot of subspecies names are in the form modifier + species-level common name, so a user typing the common name will often see a list that includes the parent species plus a few uncommon subspecies but excludes the nominate subspecies. If we’re going to show them subspecies at all we might as well show them all the ones known by some version of the common name.

BTW, computer vision suggestions aren’t really a factor as that process doesn’t suggest any sub-specific taxa.

It is covered in the curator guide section on names.

’ Please do not add common names for infraspecies that are identical to the common name of the parent species, e.g. if the species is Cola coke and it has the subspecies Cola coke ssp. classic and Cola coke ssp. zero , don’t add the common name “Coke” for the subspecies. That will just confuse people who are trying to add an ID for the species Cola coke and make it harder for people who actually want to choose the subspecies. Instead, try to choose unique common names like “Coke Classic” and “Coke Zero.”’

It is not so much about the computer vision but rather users trying to do an ID by entering a common name, encountering 2 and choosing the wrong one.


The more duplicated common names enter iNat’s taxonomy, the more tedious it becomes to upload new photo observations into the bulk photo uploader. When the common name in the photo tag appears in just one taxon, it is automatically applied to the observation. But when that common name tag matches multiple taxa, the ID is left blank and must be manually entered by the observer. When that species is common, the observer has to then enter it manually over and over for all their observations of that species.

All this extra tedious work is for zero gain over having the automatic species look-up not be so impeded. And it hits us hard when we have a lot of observations to upload. One of great features of the bulk photo uploader is to not have to do all this extra work of specifying the IDs when we’ve already done it in advance.

Keeping the duplicated common names to a minimum should instead be the goal.

1 Like

Thank you. I must have overlooked that. The guidance is pretty clear and well-expressed.

Clearly, unique common names are the best solution. I’m curious about the guidance to “choose” unique common names for subspecies. If they’re already documented, that’s fine. But if regular usage is to use the same common name for the nominate subspecies, that leaves this taxon as the only one without a common name.

A similar issue is at the root of why the word “Common” is included in many English language names for organisms – once humans realized there were several different varieties of “X”, the familiar one was named “Common X” to distinguish it. As noted in another thread, this can be misleading when “Common X” isn’t encountered often (or at all) in other regions.

I was unaware of the bulk uploader’s logic in matching photo tags with unique common names to auto-identify taxa. That’s definitely a reason to avoid dupes where possible.

This is further effectively covered in the Curator Guide where it is noted that if only a single subspecies is found in a location, and it is locally known by the same common name as the parent taxa, then you still should not add the name to the subspecies even assigned only for local use, because it still causes the same search issues.

The basic idea is that if someone is sufficiently aware they want to do a nominate ssp id, then it being listed under the scientific name is unlikely to be a barrier.


To me, trying to maintain unique common names for parent species and infraspecific autonym taxa is fighting an uphill battle, at least in plants where duplicate common names already exist (by common usage) all over the place for disparate taxa, and there is no mandate for standardization or uniqueness. In many cases, to keep species and infraspecific common names different, one would have to violate another mandate of the Curator Guide, which is to not invent common names in iNaturalist. The only option would be to pick one to carry the common name, and leave the other with no common name (even though it actually has one).


According to the Curator Guide:

Note that there are a few uncommon situations where duplicate common names are ok, e.g. in situations where a species or subspecies really has a synonymous common name somewhere else.

In situations where it is clearly established in outside sources that a nominate subspecies really legitimately shares the same name as its parent species (such as the case with Trioceros jacksonii) then it seems like that is permissible to include.

Otherwise, it may be best to leave the name blank if no legitimate common name exists.

1 Like

This does appear to be the iNat policy, specifically to use the shared common name for the species and leave the nominate subspecies without a common name. The main rationale is to avoid encouraging less knowledgeable users to be overconfident about a subspecies ID based on a familiar common name. Also, there is a quirk of the bulk upload process that means effort is increased when the common names are not unique.


This policy seems difficult to implement. How would an iNat curator know that another curator determined that Jackson’s Chameleon is a supported name for both Trioceros jacksonii and T. jacksonii ssp. jacksonii?

What level of evidence from reliable outside sources would be sufficient? For example, Calflora lists the common name “Blue Dicks” for both Dichelostemma capitatum and Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum. Is that sufficient?

1 Like

The problem with using a regional source etc is it goes right back to the issue directly noted in the curator guide that often places (I don’t know this flower well enough to know if it applies here) have only 1 subspecies present. If that happens to be the nominate, then not surprisingly the one common name gets reused. And then adding it causes the search/lookup problems elsewhere that have other subspecies as their local representative.

1 Like

I was not advocating that we should use regional sources (it’s more that many national and global authorities provide no common names). I do understand that we need to guard against duplicating common names just because each source is only considering a limited context.

However, my point was more general. @bobby23 seems to be saying that if a source that we consider reliable attests to the same common name for both the parent species and the nominate subspecies it’s acceptable to use that common name for both taxa in iNat. I support that approach but it seems to contradict the policy that you cited:

Going back to the example I gave, all three subspecies of Dichelostemma capitatum do occur in California, so when I use Calflora as an example of the same common name (Blue Dicks) being applied to parent and child taxa the duplication isn’t happening because the source has limited scope. It’s because there is no separate common name for Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum.

If there was a unique common name for this subspecies (which accounts for about 80% of observations for this species) we should certainly just use that and avoid duplication. Without the option to use a unique name, it seems it’s more helpful to the many iNat users who have observed ssp. capitatum that they’re aware of its common name than that we pretend it doesn’t have one.

In my view, the bulk upload issue that @treichard mentions could be fixed in code. Where parent and child taxa have the same common name, the upload tool could default to map that common name to the parent taxon. If duplicate common names don’t have a parent child relationship (e.g. “ice plant”) the photo tag should not generate an ID.

Finally, I think the curator guide is inconsistent when it first says

If a species has no common name in usage, please don’t make one up.

and then a paragraph later has this advice

Instead, try to choose unique common names like “Coke Classic” and “Coke Zero.”

How do we “choose” unique common names when those don’t actually exist?

1 Like

I agree and think the current policy is a bit silly. :upside_down_face:


A Feature Request was made several months ago that would allow greater transparency and clarity with where common names have been sourced from. The Request can be viewed here. I think that would help this problem a little bit, because right now it is difficult for users to discern where names come from and under what authorities.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.