Policy on removing common names

The curator guide says curators have the power to delete common names, but gives little info about when to do so, only saying to remove duplicate common names

The naming policy also says that a new name should not be coined on inat, and names should be from an external source, which implies that names coined on iNat should be deleted

Now that I am a curator have been noticing flags asking for the removal of common names that are neither unsourced nor duplicates, on the grounds that they are misleading, not widely used, and/or that the source is “not official”. I have also been questioned about the policy on offensive common names, which as far as I can tell does not exist

I usually tell people that there is no grounds for removing the name if it has a source, as that is what the current policies imply by allowing anyone to add a name as long as it has a source, but this often bothers the flagger, and it is difficult to address these situations without some formal guidance, as I can’t actually point people to any part of the curator guide that says “don’t delete common names that have sources”

I think some clarification that either “sourced common names should not be deleted”, or “names can be deleted under these circumstances” is in order, but I’m not making a feature request as I don’t have an exact change I want made, I just want to hear others thoughts on the matter and propose that some sort of clarification be added to the curator guide


One thing I should add is that I have found there are different naming “cultures” around different taxa, the “ant people” consider translating scientific names to English to use as the common name bogus, the bee and wasp people consider this much more legitimate. With ants people also tolerate less official sources for names than with wasps, and with wasps and bees there seems to be much stronger desire to have common names follow official taxonomy than with ants

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In general, I think that there probably aren’t guidelines that can cover every situation in common names, so the guidelines will always be general principles to some degree. I think it helps to remember that common names are included on iNat to help users find what they saw in language that they are familiar with. iNat isn’t primarily a place to try to collate/organize all the common names in the world (though it may be one of the more complete locations for common names currently out there, this is a happy byproduct, not a goal in and of itself).

So that said, there are some limited situations where a common name should not be added to or included on iNat, even when it may be in use - namely, if the inclusion of the name has a serious potential for confusion for users or decreases usability of iNat. The example I have encountered is that a few folks in the southern US call Plestiodon skinks “scorpions”. That is a legit common name in usage, BUT, it also is in direct conflict with the widely used common name of “Scorpions” for Scorpiones.

When almost all users of iNat enter “Scorpion” they expect to see members of Scorpiones, not lizards. So there is a potential cost to including “Scorpion” as a common name for Plestiodon. And even for those folks who might use the colloquial “scorpion” to refer to a skink, they do generally know that it is different from an “actual” scorpion, so their potential use of iNat wouldn’t be seriously compromised.

I generally agree that common names backed up by sources should remain in iNat, but some evaluation of the sources and number of them is probably required. For instance, if Google search results are used as “sources”, many of them may actually be mistakes - incorrect uses of the common name. We wouldn’t want to propagate ID errors into iNat because someone was using a name incorrectly. Likewise, I wouldn’t say that one or two posts by a user on Reddit, for example, require adding a common name. People make up goofy names for organisms all the time, and there’s not a serious need to add these.

In regards to translating scientific names, some common names have been created this way, but my take is that they should edit: not be created this way on iNat. For iNat purposes, the name needs to be in use elsewhere first. If the translation is first occurring by an iNat user to make a common name where none exists, that name should not be added. Likewise, I’ve heard suggestions that people have added common names to Wikipedia and then asked for inclusion on iNat once there is a “source” (though I have never observed this myself). To my mind, this would also be “out of bounds”.

RE: offensive common names, I think this often ends up needing to be hashed out in the specific flags by people who are familiar with a given situation. To my mind, the goal of iNat is to help people find what they are looking at, so common names that some may find offensive but are in widespread use should probably still be in the system as removing them entirely will lead to confusion. You can leave the common name in but “crossed out” (example with Lymantria dispar here) so that searches still lead to it, but it doesn’t really come up in the system. I think this is a good solution in these cases. If a user adds a joke/not widely used offensive name, it should probably just be deleted outright.


I’m not a curator but I completely agree. The previous post by @cthawley is a good place to start.

Even with better documentation, manipulation of common names will always be contentious. I strongly believe that part of the process should include community input. Although that is a time-consuming activity, I think it should be required for any name change that is potentially contentious. Most name changes probably fall into that category since change itself tends to cause conflict in people.


Actually, it would be very helpful if the Wikipedia process and procedure were at least better understood. iNaturalist might borrow some of that for its own use.

There are very few instances where I feel it is justified to remove common names. The most common need for a common name change would be when two names are given at once, for instance one was recently set to “Feathergrass (Japanese Lovegrass)” and in that case you don’t delete them anyway, but split them into two. Otherwise, you’d only really be removing “troll” common names (edit: previously said this didn’t happen as I thought only curators could add names now, might be wrong).

In effect, I’ve really seen common name removal abused by people who disagree that a common name should be applied to a species (by personal preference or disagreements over what “sourcing” is valid). Personally, I feel like there should be a much more thorough system that can remove a common name, since it’s very easy for someone to silently delete one at a moment’s notice.


I wouldn’t have thought of social media as a source at all actually

I think of Wikipedia similarly to social media, where it isn’t really a source at all because anyone can add anything. However, I think there may have been a couple names sourced from websites that were created by the same person who added the name to iNat, but I am not sure about that

I know of a case where a field guide author who is on iNat coined common names in their book and other users added those names to iNat, which was completely legit

What new curator requirement? I became a curator this month and before that was never prevented from adding a name due to not being a curator

I think you meant “they should not be created this way on iNat”.


I think @silversea_starsong was referring to the new required “Note” field that appears when adding a name. You’re right that anyone can add a name, not just curators.

[Edit: It looks like that’s not what @silversea_starsong was referring to at all. See future comments.]

Previously anyone could interact with common names, now (as of some point in time within the last few years) only curators can.

and it’s just as easy for anyone to sneak a new one in with just as much notice

Is that true even for just adding a common name? I didn’t know that had been limited.

As long as I’ve been on iNat (~4years) it’s been anyone can add names, but only curators can remove or reorder names, unless somthing just changed?

I know I added names after the notes field rule went into effect but before I was a curator, I suspect the issue was changing the default common name, once a name is added that is the default name regardless of what other names are added later, and only curators can change which name is default

One bit of Wikipedia culture that I think has spread to other online info sources is the expectation for lay contributors to cite any document they used while writing their contribution. This is more likely to occur if the online info source software makes it easier to add a citation.

Just checked. Anyone can add them, but only curators can remove. I was slightly mixed up. That was the change whenever it happened.


Thanks for catching that! Fixed via edit.

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Yes, that’s right, but it’s more than “culture”, it’s a rule. In Wikipedia, a common name (or any piece of content) requires a “reliable secondary source”. Lacking that, the common name may be tagged as “citation needed”, and in some cases, it may be removed outright (accompanied by an explanatory comment). I’ve added many common names to Wikipedia, and I’ve removed some as well.

Does that process work? Yes, reasonably well, I think. It’s not possible to add or remove a common name (or any other content) under the radar, which is a big plus.

The iNat process doesn’t have that advantage. I added a common name once—the first common name for the taxon—together with a “reliable secondary source”. A curator silently deleted the common name. I flagged the taxon and started a community discussion, whereafter the common name was restored.

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That’s not true. See above.


Some articles are not well “policed”, there is plenty of unsourced stuff with no citation needed tag, if the wikipedia article has a source, then that source can be used for the common name, if the Wikipedia name is unsourced, then it should probably be removed from Wikipedia and definitely not added to iNat. This is what I meant by not using Wikipedia as a source, it’s never a source itself, but it may provide you a link to a source

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