Please don't change common names when you change scientific names

Here in Vermont we have creeping foamflower. The taxonomy got changed from Tiarella cordifolia to Tiarella stolonifera. Someone set the common name for the plant to ‘creeping foamflower’ but that basically amounts to making up a scientific name which we aren’t supposed to do. Everyone here still calls it heartleaf foamflower. This comes up with other plants too. If you must continue with the constant splitting, please leave the common names alone so you cause less disruption to the rest of us using the site. Common names are cultural ties to plants, not just english (or other language) translations of the scientific name. Removing them is really a mild form of cultural erasure and isn’t helpful. Please stop. Thank you.


Stop calling creeping foamflower by the name creeping foamflower?


I think it got split into Tiarella cordifolia and Tiarella stolonifera - so instead of one common name two are needed now. Naming them both with the same common name just wouldn’t work. I personally also don’t like the “creeping” name, it’s not a creepy flower at all - and I’ll keep calling them “heartleaf foamflower” or just “foamflower” as I always have, and so can you. And ten other people probably have ten other common names for it.

Out of necessity inaturalist has to pick just one of all the available ones and keeping them as unique as possible is important. When I first started using inaturalist and didn’t know what common names are I was endlessly confused by “longleaf bluets” vs “long-leaved bluets”, especially since their ranges overlap here… :roll_eyes:


It’s not creeping foamflower. it’s heartleaf foamflower and has been for hundreds of years. Someone decided to split the species into two species, but the plants that grow in Vermont are all called heartleaf foamflower here.

Why not? It’s not ideal, but it doesn’t work to just completely remove the common names of common plants across swaths of their range either.

We can’t have it both ways, either common names need to be in wide use, or else they don’t and we get to make them up. We are already getting issues with people adding ‘heartleaf foamflower’ and getting the wrong species. I could see possibly using ‘northern heartleaf foamflower’ and ‘southern heartleaf foamflower’, but still, that’s making up names.

Every time i express concern about the splitter issue i am told ‘just use common names’ but now they are changing the common names too. It’s making the site unusable for the 99% of us who aren’t taxonomists. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t tell new people here to use iNat because the taxonomy is becoming unusable.


It has been split into not just two species but a bunch of them ( I’m still not sure what to make of it and whether this constitutes a properly peer-reviewed change. The author of the paper is the same as the editor of the journal it was published in and it says “submissions will be reviewed for content and style by the editor” - so this is basically self-reviewed and published?


So you didn’t type this correctly?

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yeah typo sorry

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Thank you, Charlie! I agree completely (though I think there is a typo in your initial post: our common name here in Vermont has been and still is heartleaf foamflower :-) ). I’ve called it that for almost 70 years, and while I can reluctantly accept Tiarella stolonifera now instead of Tiarella cordifolia, creeping foamflower is a yucky name, and I won’t use it.

I think iNaturalist MUST figure out a way to accommodate maintaining time-honored common names when there is a scientific name change (either through lumping or splitting, with splitting seeming to be much more common these days). With all the computer-savvy folks behind the iNat scenes, I have to have faith that there will be a way.

All that said, what you write about “cultural ties” and “cultural erasure” resonates. I wonder: should we consider learning what the indigenous people in each area called the plant? Abenaki here in Vermont? Cherokee or other nation in more southern areas? Honor regional variations with regional names of the First Peoples?


well, there isn’t much filter for adding new taxonomy to inat, basically any paper will do, reviewed or not, heck, scribbles on an old New York Post would probably work, but i don’t want to get into that conversation here as it never goes well.

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typo posts crossed :-)

Thanks, yes I do think common names are cultural ties and are important, despite people often diminishing them or just turning them into translations of the latin name.

I think it would be wonderful to get Abenaki names on here and other indigenous names. My main concerns about that are firstly, we’d need to find people of each culture to do it as i sure am not an appropriate source for Abenaki names, secondly, we’d have to be shre most people within the culture actually want to share their names. I feel like it varies a lot from group to group, my impression from the Abenaki people I’ve talked to is they would probably want Abenaki names here, but i certainly only have met a small subset and that could be wrong. Other cultures may feel differently too.


Yes, I suppose there are too many variables…

Tiarella cordifolia sensu lato was split into five taxa, three of them new. Are you suggesting they all have the same common name? I don’t think that would go over too well.

You can change the common name in Vermont to heart-leaved foamflower since there’s an option to scope a common name to a place, but the user interface recommends that common names not be micro-managed. It asks that you choose the largest region for which the common name applies. I don’t know what that would be…New England?


This was debated after the taxon Tiarella stolonifera was created by iNat in January 2022. As you know, iNat doesn’t look at original sources, it follows POWO. When the taxon was created by iNat, POWO didn’t accept it, but it does now, so the point is moot, I guess.

@annkatrinrose you’ll be interested to know that Flora of the southeastern United States [2022 edition] accepts this new taxonomy of Tiarella.

Common names of common species like this are cultural and linguistic entities and can’t just be changed for scientific papers. Yeah, presumably they do all have the same common name, but all i can speak for is in Vermont it is Heart-leaf Foamflower. I don’t know if they call it something different in North Carolina. You can’t just rename it creeping foamflower, it’s confusing and also against the inat policy.

Yes it’s confusing to have multiple duplicate common names, but it’s going to come up if extreme splitting happens.


I think iNat allows multiple common names in a single language and doesn’t restrict the common name usage for multiple taxons. Take a look at Coyote Melon which can refer to either Cucurbita palmata or Cucurbita foetidissima. I see both a lot in my ID area and this dual-naming does sometimes cause misidentifications, but it could be an option for these split cases.

Note: Common name assignment is visible in the Taxonomy tab, under the taxonomy tree.


yeah, i added the real common name back for the Vermont place, but i think honestly creeping foamflower should be deleted if they can’t demonstrate common use, i mean isn’t that the policy? Maybe we need some policy clarification from admin.


This seems the most logical thing to do. Or “stoloniferous heartleaf foamflower”. If you don’t differentiate the common names, you are basically encouraging misidentifications, but it is nice to keep something in common between the differentiated common names to reduce misidentifications. If the Flora of the southeastern United States or some other major source uses common names, that would be good to consult.

Speaking as someone who plans to release a treatment of a genus relatively soon, ideally common names should be proposed with the new treatment, especially for new taxa. That said, I plan to change several common names in my treatment. Most of the current common names in the genus I’m studying come from the era of taxonomic lumping that created a huge mess. At least some of the common names I plan to change cause misidentifications. In some cases I will create new ones and in other cases I will use older common names that are better than some used in recent treatments.

Obviously, if there are multiple species with the name heartleaf foamflower that have heart-shaped leaves, it’s a bad common name without a qualifier distinguishing it from the other heartleaf foamflowers. I would also argue that if heartleaf foamflower is attached to the scientific name Tiarella cordifolia, then that just means that that common name has been misapplied in the past to what is now Tiarella stolonifera. Just because something has been misidentified for a very long period of time doesn’t mean that misidentification should be embraced for the sake of tradition. A differentiator in front of heartleaf foamflower allows the retention of the tradition but also allows for a reduced amount of misidentifications.


Yes. Please. I’m a card-carrying splitting taxonomist, but I don’t think common names need to exactly mirror the precise taxonomy and hierarchy of scientific names. That’s reinventing the wheel and a duplication of effort.

Maybe it’s a product of being an entomologist where common names overlap to the extreme, e.g., everything’s a “bug” to an outsider and three different family-level groups have legitimate historical claim to being called “daddy long legs”. I think that if people want to actually learn species-level names for the groups they’re studying… they can learn the fake Latin that’s right there in the key they were likely using along with the rest of us, or they can use the coarser common name that already existed (if it did). Newly coined vernacular names are not actually “common”-- this forum helped me realize the distinction between these terms.


The request to “please don’t change common names when you change scientific names” could be interpreted as just restating iNat “policy”–do not make up common names. If a species is split and no common name is proposed, we cannot make up a common name. End of story.

On the other hand, the request to “please don’t change common names when you change scientific names” could also be interpreted as “never update the common name even if new common names come into usage”. So, if a common name had been proposed (better yet, if a vernacular name comes into common usage after the split), should we be allowed to start using those new common names or should the original common name (now shared between the species) remain there for eternity? If the latter, we need to bring back the common names of many, many species to their original common names.

There’s a lot of gray area in the latter interpretation–resulting in people arguing past one another. Yes, stability in names is good. But if names had never been changed to accommodate our understanding, then we’d be living in complete chaos! The rate of change is not comfortable to some people–and it is welcomed by others. There is no way to argue who’s level of comfort is correct.