Managing offensive common names

iNat certainly has some common names that are slurs or insulting. A couple of days ago I was searching for Jewelweeds, and once I got three letters in, a list of taxa with the common name, “Jew” or extensions of that came up. I tried typing in a few well known slurs and some of them brought up taxa (e.g., a dark brown butterfly is apparently known by a very insulting term for dark skinned people). I’m sure iNat does not intentionally perpetuate the use of such common names, but in order to avoid doing so unintentionally, I would suggest removing them.


I am sure I know the butterfly you mean, and the common name begins with ‘n’, though there is another butterfly whose common name starts with ‘c’ that s equally insulting. This common name has been in use for at least 100 years, long before the word got its very bad meaning (i the 1950’s). In fact, when the word was first coined, it was a word of respect!

I understand that it now upsets many people, and I would prefer abandoning any common name, and just leaving the unambiguous scientific name. Giving a new ‘common’ name, will only confuse.


Why not? Birds’ names got many changes, so why not changing clearly insulting names? If iNat has a common name the person will learn it, if not, they will search for it and find that old one.
And about all common names - I’m fully against deleting them, I don’t see a reason to learn all latin names when comon names are much easier to remember and faster to type, it’s a pity not all species have them.


the one whose scientific name has the initials O.M?

I think for the case of insects there are simply so many species thats its simply unpractical to give each a common name.


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I have mixed feelings about this. Some long standing common names, like Indian Blanket for Gaillardia pulchella or Mexican Hat for Ratibida columnifera are useful for communicating with the general public (which includes myself), and are probably better known than “Firewheel” or “Upright Prairie Coneflower.”

I have no problem with the latter terms being used on iNaturalist instead of the traditional, potentially offensive terms for these species. But it might be helpful to include all common names, instead of just one, for any species. Is the common name for Rudbeckia hirta to be decided on whether Brown-Eyed Susan or Black-Eyed Susan reminds one of domestic abuse?


Welcome to the forum!

As a some what side discussion to this conversation, if people are removing common names that are offensive, why do we still have a number of taxa with Kaffir in the common name?

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I don’t know we should be pretending offensive names don’t exist. I like the existing option of keeping them, but striking them:



I like this approach – keeping the name, but indicating it is no longer active. Some of us still rely in part on printed references that may be many years old and have some of those inappropriate names in them. It helps to be able to see what names may have been in use but are no longer, especially when scientific names are also shifting at the same time.


I initially liked your suggestion and the following one, and “liked” both, but then I had second thoughts about the worst common names.


Is the common name for Rudbeckia hirta to be decided on whether Brown-Eyed Susan or Black-Eyed Susan reminds one of domestic abuse?

You may have meant this rhetorically, but the origin appears to refer to eyes darkened from crying, or perhaps simply with dark eyes. The name apparently derives from a love poem by John Gay (1685–1732) in which “black-eyed Susan” boards a ship looking for her lover, Sweet William, who replies “let me kiss off that falling tear.” I haven’t traced the definition of black-eyed to Gay’s time, but an 1895 American dictionary defines black-eyed as “Having black, or at least dark-colored eyes, i.e. having eyes with the iris dark brown,” making no mention of the ocular bruising defined immediately prior for black-eye.


I think that would work well in most cases.


It isn’t a term that used in the US, at least not that I’ve encountered. I had to look it up. It may be that people in areas where it is used don’t tend to remove offensive common names.

While I realize you didn’t know this one, if in the future you find a term that’s offensive in a certain area, please let local curators know! And if you don’t know what curators are from the area, you can try flagging the taxon.
You can always contact me for Middle Eastern cultural questions / concerns. And for, I guess, the Northeast USA – where I grew up – though there are far more experienced Curators than I there.


Of course the reason Latin binomial names were invented was because the same species had different common names in different geographic areas. This is still a problem, and still a good reason to learn the Latin names. I have my default set to display the Latin name first. It is not any more difficult to remember these, and with practice you learn them, and it highlights which species are related to each other. As far as typing, as soon as you start typing a scientific name, the possibilities come up, and I don’t find it slower at all than tying a common name. People who i know who do field studies for environmental impact don’t know or use common names because they vary, and the same name is often used for multiple species. I’ve been told that’s why they don’t bother with them, because they don’t know what people are talking about necessarily.

Whether or not to delete or cross out a common name on this site won’t really change historical records nor really help the cause of communication as to exactly which species one is referring to. Also, of course not everyone who works with organisms uses this site, and it isn’t actually an authority for names.

In my opinion, we learn more by learning the scientific names, but of course these can change as taxa are updated also. Anyway, the reason for scientific names was to avoid confusion, so why focus on them?

In my opinion, keep them or delete them, or doesn’t matter much either way. I don’t have a strong opinion about this. I do realize names from history are offensive, and we can certainly go through them all and find a lot that could be crossed out, but I wonder how subjective this process can be.

For example, do we cross out all names with the word Indian? Such as Indian Paintbrush? Probably, I suppose.


It’s faster because I don’t need to switch languages on the keybord, especially now with a lost key.
I guess we should ask those whose nationalities are used in those names, we can’t say what people feel when they see those names if it’s not a pure slur.


Some words are very offensive to a few people, not to most. We’ve recently had a license plate fight in Canada over the name Grabher (pronounced with a hard a, not soft as in grab). Those of German heritage were offended that non-Germans were offended :(


There is no such thing as an offensive name, there are only names that some people find offensive. A name is just a name, and if we just realize that calling a flower a certain name is not meant to make a statement for/against certain people or certain things, the problem is solved.

I really hate this obsession that some parts of society have with certain words. Maybe it’s just particularly obvious to me because I’ve studied a couple of different languages, but words are meaningless without someone to intend a meaning, and someone else to understand that meaning. I say that unless a name is CURRENTLY being used with the explicit purpose of being offensive, it should remain. I have no problem with trying to standardize common names for the purposes of clarity and common understanding, but I think trying to police the name of hundreds of thousands of organisms, across dozens of countries and hundreds of languages, is just hopeless and probably does more harm than good.

PS: I’d be remiss to point out the fact that many scientific names could be offensive to some people, particularly since one of my favorite groups are the Phallales, which includes the genus Phallus. The issue of people taking offense to names therefore isn’t limited to common names. There are scientific names about misshapen phalluses (Amorphophallus), others about jew’s ears (Auricularia auricula-judae), some which are apparently racially offensive for reasons that escape me (Erythina caffra, Harpephyllum caffra, and Talinum caffrum. Appaently “caffra” or “caffrum” refers to a racial epithet… “a term derived from the Arabic for unbeliever”), and of course many more.


Many US Indians PREFER the word Indian over “native american” or other such terms. A lot of them (I’m no historian, but my understanding is that this is true) feel like “native american” was a term that outside communities started imposing on them, and they didn’t really have a say in the matter. That is why many Indian reservations or organizations have the word Indian in their name- that’s what they call themselves.

(of course, many Indians prefer other terms too… and some reject the very use of a category for all of the different nations/tribes/groups that are referred to under the umbrella of Indian/Native American/First Nations/American Indian/etc. All of this just goes to show how stupid is to obsess over words. What matters is the meaning, or the INTENTION behind the words, not the words themselves)