Multiple use of the same common name?

I feel as though “Fireweed” has been suggested for a variety of different plants that objectively are not the same. Is there a place within iNaturalist that collects such things? That is, a list that doesn’t honor “fireweed” as correct, per se, but includes all the various plants that are rightly or wrongly so called. I am in Cleveland, Ohio, and am particularly interested in native plants.

The Search box on iNat will generate a list of taxa and references to a particular name or word.

Certain common names are a bit overused across various taxa. Fireweed might be an extreme example. There are Skimmers that are birds and dragonflies and Bluets that are flowering plants and damselflies. I guess we just don’t have enough words in the English language to allow for truly unique names!


The thing is defining “wrong” for a common name is pretty difficult.

There is a native plant in my location that is commonly called a buttercup, even though it’s not in the buttercup family (not currently, at least. I have no idea of the taxon’s history). However, that name has been used for generations by thousands of people in this area. Is it “wrong” for people in this location to use the name they are familiar with?


There’s no way to police common names because there is no right or wrong and they often vary from region to region. Ask any English speaker what a ‘daddy long-legs’ is and you’ll get roughly equal numbers of people insisting it’s a harvestman, a cellar spider or a cranefly. None of these people is right or wrong, it’s just how they were brought up in their particular community. Historically, names for plants are even more variable and frequently change from village to village or even family to family. There is no authority on who is correct and who isn’t. That’s why we have scientific names. Unfortunately what you are asking is not possible because every person in the world has a unique upbringing and the boundaries between different usages of common names are fuzzy across both time and space.


My point wasn’t really about ascertaining right or wrong, more at: is there a comprehensive list which includes everything that anybody calls, e.g., “fireweed”?

It can feel like a dead end when the site suggests fireweed, but it’s clearly not what you’re looking at. I can see how such a list could be construed as verification, but since it’s about common names which are acknowledged as variable per locale, that shouldn’t matter.

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You could create a personal list or project for this purpose.

For the general discussion, iNaturalist does have this guideline:

Don’t add duplicate names, e.g. don’t name numerous hawks “hawk”

And it is a pain for adding identifications when there are duplicate names. But often different people will actually use the same name to refer to different species, so they can be legitimate common names. I think they need to be discussed on a case-by-case basis.


As to what is documented within iNaturalist, the search that @jnstuart recommended will give you this:[]=taxa

Unfortunately that one conducts a “soft” search that includes similar words like firewheel, firewood, etc. This alternate search from the taxa page seems to produce exact matches only:✓&view=list


Would Wikipedia disambiguation pages be helpful? Here’s the one for fireweed:


And this is exactly why I try to avoid the use of common names like the plague.


You mean, you avoid them like Yersinia pestis?


Very helpful answer. Holy cow, there are a lot of fireweeds!

Very helpful. Between that and jdmore’s suggested links, I’ve got my answer. Talk about getting lost in the weeds. :grinning:


I realized something else about my question. I was thinking about plants as though the first one I knew to be “fireweed” was, in fact, the ‘true’ one. Totally random which one that was, but I was thinking about it as though I knew what was true. Interesting to realize how quickly one becomes inflexible.


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