New Common Names For Species: Policy Change?

Birds are special, of course, because of the huge number of hobbyists who rely on common names. I rarely pay attention to scientific names for birds. And when the systematists reshuffle the bird taxonomy, a lot of the common names remain the same. There’s something to be said for that.


Yes, flag them. There are a few users who are making up common names or just pulling random common names they find on websites. When something really seems wrong or a bad common name for the group (let’s pretend something like jumping beetles was added as common name for a group of beetles that never jump), it is worth flagging to have that common name removed and to question the user who added it in the first place.

Though I have mostly given up arguing about common names. There are a lot of insect taxa that never used to have common names and now in the last few years have them thanks to some circular citing of being published on iNat, then other places start using them, and then people defend the names on iNat since there are other websites using them.


Yeah I get the why behind it I’ve just always thought the standardization of “official” common names for only birds is a little bit silly

Please, god, no. It’s bad enough that iNat uses the absurd “common names” published by the USDA and USFWS as the default common name in English, even though no actual person who works with the organism would ever call it that, or when there is an actual name available. We don’t need to be making up more.


Unless those names which are in use meet x, y, or z criteria that make them unacceptable. I never heard of a “spongy moth” until iNat decided that we couldn’t call it a gypsy moth. So a name in common use (definition of a common name) has been targeted for elimination and replacement with a rare (if used at all) name. Who made that one up?

Actually, we know who made it up. According to Wikipedia: “In January 2022, the new common name ‘spongy moth’ was proposed [by the Entomological Society of America], as a translation from the French name ‘spongieuse’ for the species, referring to the sponge-like egg masses.” So in other words, it never was a name in common use in English.

So it seems the real debate here is who gets the privilege of making up “common” names. As individual iNat users, we don’t have that privilege, but a group such as an Entmological Society does.

Definitely. Whether it’s Seiurus noveboracensis or Parkesia noveboracensis, it never stopped being a Northern Waterthrush. It was likely a Northern Waterthrush before it was either of those other taxa.


I think it is definitely something that shouldn’t be done on the internet.

Common names arise in the communities or researchers that experience the species, through observed behaviour and/or appearance (hence they get recorded in literature). They work in a local environment because it is generally clear there aren’t existing names in use already and they grow through common context.

Creating them by internet group might be ok for the online platform, but is probably just confusing and /or annoying to those actually in the species’ environment.

And decision by consensus of internet opinion is most certainly not the way to get good outcomes consistently.


personally i am in favor of people creating (reasonable) common names for organisms which do not have common names, and kind of letting them fly to see if they stick. (with caveats for no offensive names, duplicates, etc). However i think this opinion is even less popular than my opinion on scientific names and i don’t think creating common names on iNat is ever going to be an approved activity.

Even for existing common names, so many of them are bad… nonsensical description, entire species named after an individual human, or even offensive, racist, malicious names. Language is fluid, whatever people decide is a word, becomes a word. And scientific names aren’t consistent enough to provde anything better, they actually change more often than common names for many taxa.


Here we are on the internet as a community that experience species and observe their behaviors. Science doesn’t have to be old men in a hotel ballroom.

Not only this, but common names are a chance to have fun! They don’t need to be descriptive or formulaic. If they are bad, they won’t catch on, so I don’t see the need to be so strict about their creation and use.

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I very much agree with the stance that iNat should not be the place to start attempting to coin new common names.

If you have a common name you want to use and are able to get it to catch on outside of iNat, in general use, then great, that will eventually make it’s way onto iNat.

iNat is in the role of documenting and recording what already exists, not making up new things and potentially adding to confusion rather than mitigating confusion.

Let’s stick with common names that are already in use and keep the coining of new ones out of iNat.

And yes, this is a topic that has come up really often in discussion here.


If the internet was in charge of naming animals half of them would be variations on “Mothy McMothFace”.

The internet community has a terrible record for naming things, even when there are guidelines in place for doing so.


Exactly! They have no real context to the species in their local environment.

I can experience Italians cooking food over the internet too, shall I get a group together and make up official common names for their meals for them? Or shall we have a taxonomy of human ethnic groups and start giving other ethnicities common names by online vote? I’m being absurd here, but I hope it makes the point.

Use whatever common name you feel like in an internet group, but it shouldn’t form any official name if it has no actual local context. IMO anyway.

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Not sure how this relates. WE, the users of iNaturalist, are directly experiencing nature in real life and using the internet to connect with others who hold similar values and interests. Through our collective experience, WE can discuss names that are appropriate for the plants and animals WE interact with. That’s all a common name is - “a name that is based on the normal language of everyday life”.

This discussion isn’t some scheme to fill iNaturalist with random names like “Mothy McMothFace”, but the chance to actually improve our ability to communicate with the billions of people who don’t know Latin binomials. Here’s an organization using the internet to accept comments on common name proposals Proposed Common Names | Entomological Society of America (


Fair enough, but I think that’s the danger, that those within the local context can’t maintain the control of the names and so you end up with Mothy McMothFace.

yeah but look at the ‘old rich white guy’ community, no better.

Traditional/indigenous names are best when we have them, if and only if said people WANT us using them which may not be the case


that is literally how most of the existing common names were created for most of the world. Scientific names too.

11 posts were split to a new topic: Common Names of Chile Peppers

I fully agree. Although that does open the door to an overabundance of common names. Widespread species in California alone would potentially have hundreds of different names due to the immense number of original indigenous languages in the region.


Even within one language, I wanted to add names for a fish, Wiki has a list of 50 regional names for it with tons of variations, not great for iNat.

We heard that the former name is widely considered an ethnic slur. Many users of the name may not have realized it was a slur.


I don’t see the issue.

There’s two sides:
Species with no common name - anyone can try to coin a new one and either spread it in social circles or submit an official proposal to a professional society (but not on iNat directly)
Species with many common names - let’s accommodate as many as possible, so all new and existing users are able to search by the name they know. I add names in Navajo and Tewa when I can find them online and, hopefully, they will come in handy one day.

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