Scientific name Vs. Common name?

How do you like to name wildlife, especially insects like butterflies and dragonflies, when talking, writing or chatting in science forums or groups or generally… by their common name or scientific name?

For instance, the butterfly🦋 ‘Soldier pansy’ is common name for Junonia terea (scientific name).

It’s ‘Soldier pansy’ I recall whenever I think about that particular butterfly, or talk about.
Same with dragonflies. I
Regardless that I’m familiar with their scientific names, I prefer to identify them by their common names which sound cooler and often more convenient. Talk about Twister, Red rockdweller, Wandering glider, Inspector, etc.

Now, academicians don’t seem OK with this. I belong to several naturalist forums, one of which is for Odonatology and with professors and doctors and a host of other professionals.
They always talk about dragonflies, using their scientific names. I think that is what obtains really. And it’s OK for mere citizen scientists to be content with knowledge of common names alone, as long as specimens are correctly identified.

Once in the group, I made a post of dragonflies with common names, and one of the professors advised that I learn to use scientific names instead.

I took heed. However, I still find myself favouring common names over scientific names. Moreso, for birds, which are less called by their scientific names.

No to mention that iNat reinforces my inclination to common names too, because that’s what’s more boldly labeled to observations :-)

Wikipedia descriptions give scientific or latin names first, prioritising them over common names.


i think it just depends on your audience.

  • to botanists: “Those birds sure love Celtis laevigata fruit!”
  • to birders: “Those Cedar Waxwings sure love those berries in that tree!”
  • to advanced birders: “Those CEDWs sure love hackberries!”
  • to folks that i have to drag out into nature: “look at those flappy flaps in that stick tree!”

Common names are regional. Scientific names are global.


I like to use scientific names myself, but I enjoy hearing common names. I like seeing how many different common names for one species I hear from local folks when doing fieldwork. For some lizards I’ve worked with, I’ve heard locals call them “scorpions” (based on a myth that their tails can sting) and “racehorses” because??? Maybe because they run pretty fast? I really don’t know.

But all that said, those names are also illustrative of how confusing some common names can be (I’d be downright deceptive if I used those names in another context).

I also think it’s fair to point out that a lot of scientific names are fairly descriptive or interesting if you know the Latin/Greek/Other roots. Like Crotalus (a rattlesnake genus) comes from the Greek for rattle…neat!


“Ugh, I almost stepped on a racehorse the other day… it ran right across the trail and I almost tripped when I realized it was there.”


Common name is great for own use or website that knows variety of them, for speaking with scientist you will more likely to use Latin name, invertebrates are not likely to have a common name at all, botanists pay more attention to common names and now they’re more like scientific names, but in local language, though for university you need to now Latin names for plants, bird people are more about common names as there’s only a few bird species comparing to other groups. I can learn easy names like Steatoda and won’t be too happy to learn something like Phylloscopus, but again birds are not numerous, so even Anas platyrhynchos for Mallard (or, I’d say кряква) is ok to learn.


For insects, arachnids etc. I find myself using the scientific name nearly 100% of the time (to the point where I don’t recognise some common names), but for taxa like birds and herps I actually use both, with the common names used slightly more often.


I’m mixed in my usage.

For birds for the most part it is common names but knowing the scientific name of genus, family, and order is helpful when trying to understand why certain birds look alike, behaviours, and sounds. When you are in a hide with a bunch of birders, the common name will prevail.

For marine inverts I am mostly scientific name but that goes back to a course I took. As @marina_gorbunova mentioned, some of these do not have a common name. I also love to teach my nephews and nieces to say Pisaster ochraceous and Dendraster excentricus at a preschool age.

With bees and wasps I think the scientific name is better even to just understand groupings. Again, some do not have common names. Sometimes, if there is a common name it describes multiple species depending on where you are. Then for others there are only bees (Western Honey Bee) and wasps (everything else with stripes and antennae or not (hover flies)).


Some taxa have standardized common names like most leps and odonates, and birds (and herps? I’ll admit I’m not too familiar), in which case common names are usually most often used unless you’re a researcher in that field. But for other taxa, it differs person to person whether all those multiple common names for the same animal is cool or irritating (I tend to fall into the latter). And so many insects have no official common name at all!
With bees, I learned scientific names first and then slowly became aware of what the public called them (and I am still surprised to see new ones - apparently some call Andrena ‘tickle bees’ whereas I only ever knew them as mining bees, the latter at least being vaguely informative to their life history). Bumblebees, for example, have common names that sound confusingly similar - yellow-banded, golden northern, northern amber, half-black, which generally point to them all being part yellow and part black! It doesn’t help me very much to use those common names even in outreach when they’re not helping the public remember the differences between species. The same goes for when I recommend native garden plants - I always give scientific names alongside common, because common names can deceivingly be applied to many species (some non-native) and consumers need to be able to know they’re actually getting the plant they want.
Unfortunately it seems among the general public there’s some sort of aversion to learning scientific names that I’ve come across, that for some reason Latin names appear too difficult to pronounce or remember and so common names are demanded even when they’re just as difficult to tell apart!
Maybe this is just a scientist’s viewpoint but I do prefer scientific names for taxa I’m familiar with/are speciose, or at least a common name that is definitive and is informative about the species’s life history. Scientific names help me understand how species are related to each other, which helps me learn them faster and place them in my mental tree of life!


I have come across a few species on iNaturalist and similar websites (iSpot for one) where the wrong common name is attached. Knotgrass leaf beetle Chrysolina polita is the one that crops up most often. So it puts me in a quandary when identifying or agreeing with a post. If I agree with the scientific name, people might think I am agreeing with the common name. I can explain in a comment but not everyone reads those. I guess the problem derives from a mistake in some external checklist.


Thanks for the contributions! I have more reason to learn scientific/latin names now.


I use common names while talking to people who have little knowledge about the animals I observe (reptiles and amphibians). In fact, for many people even common names are too much, for them a lizard is always just a lizard :)
Otherwise I prefer to use the scientific names, because I’m multilingual, so it’s hard to remember all the common names, especially that one species can have several common names in one language. For example, the Hemidactylus turcicus gecko is known in Turkish as: 1) Geniş parmaklı keler, 2) Türk keleri, 3) Süleymancık; 4) Akdeniz sakanguru… And I’m sure it’s not the full list. Still, most of people would say it’s simply “kertenkele” (Lizard) :) I’m usually aware of the English common names thanks to inat, but the scientific ones are just more precise.
Another problem is that the scientific names may also change quite often, while the common ones don’t… But that’s a whole new topic.


For North American herps, SSAR maintains a checklist of standard English common names that some journals adhere to, but they’re more like guidelines:

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Often the newer manufactured ‘common’ names are simple translations of the Greek / Latin scientific name. Mimetes fimbriifolius - has a fringed margin to the leaf. If I know what it means, I can remember both the defining information and the attached name.


I wouldn’t worry that most people would presume that you’re agreeing with the common name as opposed to the scientific. If you do think a common name is wrong, you can flag the taxon and initiate a discussion. You can also add any missing common names as well. However, I think the current guidelines for common names are that if they are used by a citable source, then they can be listed (even if they conflict or potentially cause confusion with other species) as this just reflects how people use the common names. As a result, some species have lots of common names included in many different languages, as people may be using those names to search for those taxa.


Thinking about this, the better I know a group, the less I use the common name. For moths, I use scientific names - I don’t even understand a lot of the common names. I don’t know butterflies well at all, so the common names are what I mostly use. With birds, I am starting to flip back and forth. I don’t understand plant scientific names at all! Or Herps or fish etc.
As @dotun55 says, iNat seems to default to common names which often confuses me.


You can change this in your settings…?


Yes, that’s absolutely how it works in practice… for example, I don’t know many of the scientific names for birds and mammals and I have absolutely NO idea of the common names for all the rest.
Apart from this though, I’m a GREAT fan of scientific names as they are (or should be) unambiguous wherever you are in the world. I changed country 30 years ago from Britain to Italy and the scientific names became indispensable for me to start learning about the new flora and fauna I saw around me and to communicate with others with my interests. I also sometimes find myself in conferences or other international gatherings where scientific names are the only possible way of communicating with other participants from other countries, or even other regions of the same country. They may seem a little frightening at first, but they soon become old friends with a little time and effort.


I logged in just to say I really, really love your examples, perfectly shows how hilariously specific people get about just specific groups of things, sometimes. Thanks for the chuckle :) Also I’m going to call birds flappy flaps now.


i like to incorporate arm movements, especially when the situation calls for extra kawaii/aegyo.