New Names for old friends. How much to cut and how much to paste

A couple of my nature loving friends and I were having a good discussion on name choices and changes.

Some name changes (scientific and common) are as a result of DNA testing and this makes perfect sense. The new name is fitting.

However, there are a couple of name changes that have caught our attention and frankly make little sense.

Example: California’s native shrub, the Sticky Monkeyflower. The name is descriptive and makes perfect sense. The Bush is sticky and is in the Monkeyflower family. It’s common name has now been changed to Orange Bush Monkeyflower. :flushed:
Much like it’s neighbor, the Blue Eyed Grass, this name makes little sense at all, many of my plant loving buddies are regularly amused by the name. It is not a grass, does not have a blue “eye”
The new name for the Sticky Monkeyflower runs along the same head scratching rails as the Blue Eyed Grass, The bush is not orange, the flower is, and why change the name when the one it had was much better?
Is it just to get ones name on a paper in a world where things do not often change?
Let’s add the Ridgway’s Rail, a local marsh bird whose previous name Clapper Rail not only have a nod to its vocalizations but to the Native people’s who lived as its neighbor for centuries.

NOW the Ridgway’s Rail has been given yet a longer, more specific and equally as frustrating name. Some Clapper Rails (a much better sounding name which is easier to say) are now San Francisco Bay Ridgway’s Rail.
Have scientists needed to separate the birds name into specific locales? Or are people just making things more complicated? Whatever happened to keeping it simple?

I get the need for specifics if they are needed, the question repeatedly posed is why make it so specific if it does not warrant such terminology.
To some in the discussion, this is just the start of people attempting to justify a change even when none is needed.
Will the Ridgway’s Rail become the San Diego Bay’s Ridgway’s Rail with a Los Angeles Ridgway’s Rail? Or will it be even more specific?

Then there is the beautiful Pacific Tree Frog, no, wait, Pacific Choral Frog, no…not good enough, let’s call it the Sierran Tree frog, keep the Pacific Tree Frog name for only some of the population but then and add the Lowland Tree Frog.
It gets to a point where some of my nature loving friends will only use the most generalized name that they can find in order to keep a hold of their sanity.
Why separate and rename some species but not others? When is name change really warranted and when does it become too much, especially when there is no difference in DNA at all?

Where does the cutting and pasting end? How much of it is necessary and how much is just the current members of the scientific community wanting to get noticed on paper for their contribution?
I find the discussion and questions compelling and wonder…what do you think about the whole thing.
Thanks in advance


My guess, they added the word bush to distinguish it from the non-shrubby form that grows in wet areas. To me, that makes sense. It’s orange, it’s a bush, and it’s a monkey flower.

Otherwise, your examples are crazy-making.:wink:

I mean, the short of it is that common names are not governed by rules in the way that scientific names are. Common names are based on common usage, and sure some people might try to change the names for whatever reason, but if it doesn’t stick then it doesn’t stick. There’s no particular reason to use one common name over another (although these days offensive/outdated common names are rightfully being replaced), and as long as somebody knows what organism you are talking about, then it doesn’t really matter what common name you use.


I thought the common name was even less controlled/restricted than the scientific name for something. Often, there’s a slew common names for something. I think common usage dictates “the right” name.

For example, Dipterostemon capitatus is called Blue Dicks, Wild Hyacinth, and School Bells.

I’m under the impression that Blue Dicks is more commonly used. Maybe School Bells is used when teaching kids so the whole classroom doesn’t go wild with laughter? Not sure about Wild Hyacinth.

For iNat calling it “dip cap” is enough to find it, thanks to whomever pointed this out in a forum post!


Except on iNat, where whomever it is who gets to set the default display name dictates “the right” name.

For example, if you even recognize Achlys triphylla and Achlys californica as different species, you will have heard the common name Vanilla-Leaf commonly being applied to the one that people most commonly see: the lowland form, “Achlys californica.” But on iNat, nope. Vanilla-Leaf is only the montane form or “true” Achlys triphylla. So the one that people (and field guides) commonly call Vanilla-Leaf is dictated to be “Deer’s-Foot” instead.


I dont think i’ve heard a different common name for Sisyrhinchiums, unless there are west coast species that dont have blue flowers or dont look as grassy as the eastern ones im familiar with
But also yeah I think a lot of the common names people choose are uhhh. Bad. to say the least. Sundadanio axelrodi was called “Volcano Rasbora” for… some reason, even though if you look anywhere the best common name you’ll get is some variation of “neon green rasbora” or something (gotta love fish trade names lol), but volcano rasbora also… refers to Rasbora vulcanus? Which wasn’t named volcano rasbora on inat? its just sorta absurd sometimes


That’s a good point. I know on some taxons, clicking links to the Wikipedia entry which lists more common names.

At the risk of it devolving into Boaty McBoatface or Gerald the Muskrat(?) (warning: may crash browser because of 100s of IDs), maybe a new feature can be added where:

  • taxon common name(s) get voted on
  • top vote gets to be the default common name
  • less popular names can be viewed by poll result

Not sure how that would work with other languages and geographically though, even within a single country.

For me, the current approach is pretty good. I’m happy with most of the names I encounter, only wishing a few were different.

Maybe an easier way to figure out how to request whomever last named a taxon to change the name might be an easy option?


Common names are common names. The whole business of naming committees pronouncing from on high about what to call a given taxon is control freak silliness. It determines what gets printed in field guides and journals (until the next change) but it has almost no impact beyond that. Chances are your rail is known as a mud hen by more people than call it a clapper rail anyway.

My pet peeve, as noted elsewhere on the forum is the endless, annoying Canada jay/ gray jay palaver. It’s a whiskeyjack, for crying out loud.


I personally use the name “orange bush monkeyflower,” instead of “sticky monkeyflower,” but I agree with your criticism of the name “blue eyed grass.” I understand why it’s called “grass” because it does resemble grass even though it’s not a grass (and common names don’t always need to be scientifically accurate), but the description “blue eyed” makes no sense. I’ve rarely ever seen the flowers appear blue—they’re usually more of a light purple—and the actual “eye” of the flower is yellow.

I think, in the case of the Pacific Tree Frog, there is an actual taxonomic issue. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that the Pacific Tree Frog species, Pseudacris regilla, was split into the Pacific Chorus Frog, still Pseudacris regilla, Sierra Tree Frog, Pseudacris sierra, and Baja Chorus Frog, Pseudacris hypochondriaca. Pseudacris regilla is the most northern species, Pseudacris sierra inhabits the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Pseudacris hypochondriaca’s range includes the southern lowlands.

Changing common names is nothing to do with scientists wanting to get noticed - because common names are not scientifc and not regulated in any way. If you’re noticing common names change on iNat, you’re simply seeing the curation process in action, as people adjust the default name based on what they believe is most widely used and unambiguous. It’s always a difficult judgement to make because common names can be highly localised, but iNat can only display one at a time. It’s best not to read too much into the common names iNat shows - the scientific names are what define the identity of the organism, so you can use those when you need to be precise.


This is not always the case. One example where prescription/standardisation of common names is important is the fishing industry. All traded/produced Australian fishes (plus non-native species imported into Australia) have a standard name as dictated by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. This helps combat dodgy practices where vendors can sell anything and everything under a variety of different or often conflicting names in order to sell threatened/illegally caught species, mark up the price of cheap species, etc., which I’m sure you’d have a wealth of experience with given your background.


In birds, the situation’s a bit more complicated. The AOS, for instance, maintains a taxonomy committee (actually 2, one for N. America & one for S. America), and their checklist includes “official” common names as well as the scientific ones. In contrast to many, those names tend to be honored. And Ridgway’s Rail lost the name Clapper when it was split off from the east & gulf coast Clapper Rail, and therefore needed a new name.


I prefer the name Canada Jay, even though I have heard it being called a camp robber to.


Sort of. Label standardization is about preventing fraud and it is only coincidentally related to adoption of common names. Consider the Patagonian toothfish, a tasty relative of orange roughy; some marketing genius decided that flogging them as Chilean sea bass would sell more fish and applied for labelling permission in the US. Voila, a new “common name”, even if it’s a name that has never been used by anybody who has seen a whole specimen.

Australia has one of the most restrictive labelling laws for fish, insofar as it limits labels to one permitted name. Canada (where I’m from), for example, prescribes lists of permitted names for a given scientific name or taxon number. In some cases (e.g. walleye), different species are listed with similar names differentiated only by a geographic adjective (European walleye, Canadian walleye), although in conversation nobody actually uses those terms; European walleye is referred to as sander, zander or pikeperch and Canadian walleye is walleye, yellow pickerel or just pickerel. And yes, walleye is a percid and pickerel is also a name for some esocid species.

I’ve heard it called some very choice things as it made off with the bacon, straight out of the pan. That’s why I (and most people around these parts) call it whiskyjack, a name based on an Indigenous name for a trickster spirit creature, variously rendered as weesakayjack, wiskedjac, etc.


On the subject of monkey flowers, where is the monkey face in any of these? I can’t see it:

Does anyone have any suggestions for some obviously monkey-faced monkey flower?

Here is one:

The first images I saw of monkeyflowers were watercolor painting of heavily spotted cultivars, which are more easily imagined to have faces – much like the faces of pansies.

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They’re not Monkey Flowers per se, but I seem to remember some orchids in the Dracula or a related genus that have monkey/ape faces in them.

Edited to add: Here’s an aptly named one

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the captive trade always chooses some random name lol. if it sounds cool, it sells better.

one of my favorite species of all time is candoia aspera, the new guinea ground boa. that name makes sense for the species because it is very terrestrial, it is a boa, and it lives on new guinea and the surrounding islands. there are hundreds of names spoken in papua new guinea, the country they are mostly found in, so of course there are many names there as well—most are variations of (when translated into english) “sleepy snake” due to the lazy behavior of the snake or something to do with them living on the ground.

however, they are often confused with a deadly elapid that also lives in new guinea: the papuan death adder (acanthopis laevis) (which also has a variety of common names lol). i could tell the differences but i can also see the confusion, given that they are both heavy bodied brown terrestrial snakes found in many of the same areas. unfortunately, this means that many harmless ground boas are killed out of fear.

of course, the captive trade latched right on to this! hm, a boa that resembles an elapid? let’s sell them as… viper boas! even though vipers and elapids are… pretty different snakes. they’ve been exported in the thousands for decades now, and viper boa is the name that stuck. i’ll admit it’s a little fun to say but it isn’t even a good indicator of what venomous species the boa is confused with, nor was there any problem with the original name. but it sounds more badass than New Guinea Ground Boa, so they will probably forever be viper boas

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Further to my post above regarding common names:

“a Chicago communications design company, came up with “copi.” It’s an abbreviated wordplay on “copious” — a reference to the booming populations of bighead, silver, grass and black carp in the U.S. heartland.”

I hope they didn’t pay a whole lot for that “rebranding”.

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Oldthinkers unbellyfeel newnomen. That’s why Minitrue gathers up all all earlier publications with the earlier names and replaces them with editions containing the approved name. When their work is complete, nobody will remember that Lymantria dispar used to be called something that is no longer PC.

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