Scientific names in italics in ID remarks and comments

But you talk about communicating, they matter for one person and if talk about moths, there’s nobody else to even talk to about them, and of course entomologists don’t know even normal common names, because they see their community as elite and above layperson. Modern common names are getting revized and it’s much easuer to operate between regions, like hundred years ago one bird name applied to ten species often from different families. And iNat usually has only one name assigned, and it’s much easier to remember than latin, because it actually means something for person who reads it.


I did not mean to imply that they are not of value. Just expressing my dislike of them.


Some of your ‘Latin’ scientific names, are Greek.


Well, not necessarily.

Names mean something when they describe what we are likely going to be able to actually see in that species. And scientific names can be equally descriptive: on a Sympetrum striolatum I expect to see some stripes (‘striolatum’), and on a Somatochlora flavomaculata some yellow (‘flavus’) spots (‘macula’).

Things get trickier when in the name (either scientific or common) reference is made to a characteristic trait that doesn’t however meet the eye, for instance because the shape of the rhizome reminded the first chap who described the species of a particular object and so he named the species after it. An average iNatter taking pictures during a Sunday walk is however unlikely to dig up roots to appreciate the taxonomy, regardless whether scientific or common. One of the major wild bee people in the German-speaking world argued that some common names for species that do not aptly describe them could very well be binned, especially if they are misleading.

Speaking of bees, here’s an example of a common name that has an added value vs. the scientific name. Osmia bicolor in English is called the ‘two-coloured mason-bee’, but its German common name adds info that relates to its nest-building behaviour: the ‘two-coloured snail-shell mason-bee’. If you have two minutes to spare, go to this video and watch between minutes 37:37 and 39:37. It shows a female preparing a nest in the snail shell. First it adjusts the position of the shell, then it collects pollen, lays the egg, fetches pepples to close the opening, and finally covers the entire shell with dry blades of grass up to 10 cm long which it carries there by flying. It takes up to 3 days of work per nest, and during the brief life of the bee, it builds up 5-8 of them.


Please reread my last message, there shouldn’t be anything descriptive to have a meaning for a person, that’s a name and not full biological description, though 90℅ of common names are descriptive, same as Latin names, so I don’t get that argument really.

Your last 3 posts bring up a lot of good information. I think you’ve answered the questions very well, thanks! I have a good understanding of your approach and see why you disregard common names because of the problematic issues with common names pointed out.

If I had to choose, scientific names only is the lesser of two evils and having a better sense of relationships amongst organisms through taxanomic hierarchy with scientific names is awesome! Only evil because it has problems too:

I’m not a birder so I don’t know what a ‘warbler’ is. I include both a common and the scientific name because it might make sense to a larger group of people and I’m never sure how comfortable anyone is with scientific names. I think it’s a bit more inclusive, but can see how it’s English-centric that way. Not sure what to do about that, but to keep using both, I guess?

Warbler is an English enigma of names, for some reason people decided to call every small passerine a warbler or a sparrow.


Yes, but this is the whole problem. When learning moths you have to learn a bunch of names as that is the nature of the beast. That is a given. So if the guides just provide just scientific names, those are the ones that will be learned and there will be no communication barrier going forward, for anyone on the planet because they won’t be forced to learn an English common name to go along with any of the “alternate” English common names and names in other languages. It makes learning moths far easier. Provide common names for select common and charismatic species (Luna Moth, Great Ash Sphinx, Sweetheart Underwing). They will never go away and don’t need to. There is no need to put a cheesey common name on every Olethreutes micromoth in the U.S., for example. It already has a name!

I think you are misrepresenting scientists too, as we all are quite familiar with common names, and will use the common names when around laypersons as much as we can. Scientists will revert back to the Latinized name because they are far superior and easy to communicate to other scientists. For groups with hundreds of closely related species, it is really the only way to communicate taxonomy

Now this claim is problematic, and is actually one of the claims that propagates the “phobia” for Latinized names. I have no clue why you’d come to this conclusion as to the intent of Linneaan taxonomy. Scientists DO NOT use these names to be smug or elitist at all. It is a consistent form of taxonomic nomenclature to allow efficient and precise communication on what you are talking about. That’s all it is. The names require exposure and usage to get used to, but there is no gatekeeper in place or elitism intended. If Latin was still spoken like French or Chinese you could argue that they would be a “common name” for a Latin speaker. The Latin names are accessible to all.

You state this like this is a good thing? One bird name referring to ten species now being reduced to 2 or three names referring to one species? And how is it easier to operate between regions if one species in region 1 has a completely different name from region 2 or region 3? Why not just call them by their single Latin name? Isn’t that easier to remember than 5 common names?

[quote=“marina_gorbunova, post:86, topic:33567”]
And iNat usually has only one name assigned, and it’s much easier to remember than latin, because it actually means something for person who reads it.[/quote]
This requires a change in perception. For the vast majority of species on Earth the Latin name is not any harder to remember than a common name. The Latin name to someone familiar with them means just as much, if not more, than a common name. “Turdus migratorius” has exactly the same meaning as “American Robin” if you ignore the emotional attachment one has to the latter. Taxonomists literally get the same picture in their mind if you use either name for the bird.

Let’s count the ways:
Quercus rubra = Red Oak… they say the same thing and mean the same thing
Linophryne arborifera has no common name and doesn’t need one… the Latin name is descriptive enough if you look into the etymology. Coming up with alternate names for the dozens of species of Linophryne is not going to help differentiate them anymore than the Latin name does. They all have quite similar morphology. Saying “Tree-barbeled Leftvent Netdevil” is both harder to learn and more cumbersome than the Latin name.
Caloptilia bimaculatella = Maple Caloptilia Moth… what’s the point? You are already saying “Caloptilia” and “bimaculatella” means two spots which is useful for ID. An adult moth with no affinity for Maple is not as useful. and if you are communicating one of 5 small moths you have spotted at your sheet, how would saying the common names actually broadcast you are seeing 5 species of the same genus versus 5 completely different moths? Saying “I see Caloptilia bimaculella, C. packardella, and C. superbifrontella” conveys more information, especially if one of these lacks a common name.

No one is forcing anyone to do anything, but there is a good reason that people developed and use the current taxonomic scheme. Latin names are not and should not be scary to use.


For sure there’re different scientists, but I spent quite some time on lep-forums and it’s what users there always write, how they hate common names as if they personally attacked them in the past, using common names doesn’t mean denying Latin names either, e.g, I can write Phylloscopus trochilus, but see no reason to ever use it as I can use пеночка-весничка/весничка or Willow Warbler instead, or look up different common names, but for groups where I don’t spend days reading Latin names, I would rather learn two-three words in my language that I can use on iNat later. Thing is scientists always look down on someone who doesn’t know Latin names, e.g. last week I read a discussion about common names of two moths, and one of comments said “for those who don’t know Latin those moths are the same, others use Latin, so who cares if name is wrongly added to the species”, how’s that not a classist approach? Those were easily distinguished moths and I don’t need to know their names for that, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who can see that without deep knowledge. They always mention how using common names is ok for newbies, how we should tolerate it “for regular person”, as if learning words in a dead language makes you completely different person and not acually researching it. I can’t mention all cases of that, because I try not to go in those circles of the Internet as it upsets me with how they divide community.


I think it’s unfortunate that you’ve had that experience with scientists online. I think that is the fault of that particular scientist to shame anyone for not knowing all the names. But this shaming can pertain to any label, whether it be Russian, English, or Latin, so I still don’t get how the criticism only applies to the scientific name?

There is no one who should be shamed for using their common name for any creature they want, but the issue is that that common name does not have the consistent nature of the Latinized one, especially for communication across cultures and languages, and among researchers. It may come across as “elitist” but it’s no more elitist than a group of mechanics talking about the types of fuel injectors or a group of doctors talking about fixing a “disarticulated distal segment of the apophysis”. All niche fields have their jargon and it’s unfair to call them classist or elitist if you aren’t part of that group.

I will never shame a person for using a common name but I still favor exposure of all people getting into taxonomy to the proper scientific nomenclature, because that is why the system was introduced. It is also far easier than learning extra names. Plus if they are communicating on very specific clades that they encounter, the experts that they need to interface with to ID them will have no clue what they are talking about. Fellow laypersons are going to have trouble learning both common and scientific names at first, so why not have the whole world use the same standardized naming scheme. That’s why I push so hard for the Latin names, because that is the system that can work for everyone.


I fear this has gone way far off-topic so I apologize if people want to hear about italics or not


The “warbler” and “sparrow” brings up another good point about common names vs Latin names. A lot of the common names pay no attention to relationships and harken back to the old creationist notion of “kinds” of animals. So “finch” has been used for any bird that vaguely looks like a “finch”, whatever that is. However now we know that “finch” is not a natural grouping of organism referring to a species or a genus or even family (if we go by common names).

The advantage of the Latin scheme is that by the name alone you know which species are related to each other and which aren’t. The nested schemes also make learning the groups easier because you group them into smaller categories. So instead of learning “sphinx moths” as a whole which may be overwhelming, you can learn the different genera of sphinx separately, and their Latin names conveniently tell you the identity and illustrate the general morphology of all these sub-groups of sphinxes. And I don’t think Smerinthus jamaicensis is any harder to say than “Small-eyed sphinx Moth” , although the Latin name is certainly less accurate a descriptor! The Smerinthus sphinx moths certainly all have a unique appearance though that separates them from other genera, and the common name would never indicate relationship.

Now if you are already know and use the common name, that shouldn’t be used to shame you or belittle your knowledge, but you can expect a lot of moth people will ask you “what is that again?”.

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Insofar as reading and writing goes, scientific names are good at avoiding ambiguity and can make it easier to communicate.

However, I’m not sure this necessarily holds true when speaking. From Where Do I Start With Pronouncing Scientific Names?, it’s clear that there’s not a single way to say the scientific name.

In my experience, this leads to a back-and-forth where both people say the name to see if they agree what’s being talked about, sometimes more than once, to the point that it’s sometimes easier to point out the spelling from a book or iNat taxa page.

Granted, I’m an amateur so maybe I’m really messing up the pronunciation. :sweat_smile:

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My first answer was for “hate common names”, I habe nothing against taxononic nomenclature.)
About warblers, here they have separate names and most fit taxonomy, with maybe current Curruca and Sylvia having the same genus name - славка, but they belong to one family, so it’s ok, I was really surprised when I learnt English names, but if it works for those people,aybe it’s ok. Another example of not fitting names, many erebids still have name of noctuid - совка, but it’s a modern view to assign common names to families and expect this name to be of this one particular family only. In the end, if you understand what name means, it’s enough.


Yeah I see pronunciation as the hardest thing about scientific names. I tend to be forgiving. For example so many people say Katto-kalla for Catocala instead of Cat-Ock-alla but at least you can follow what they mean.


Yeah, the common names don’t catch up fast. I see many Hypena as “Bomolochas” in field guides.

Having never formally studied botany or zoology I was not aware of the italicization convention. I struggle already getting the spellings correct, even for species I identify regularly the endings always seem to have an unexpected twist for me. However, I do identification of one genus around the world, and the common names vary even among English speaking countries, so I make it a habit to use the botanical names.

I must admit that even knowing the convention, I do not intend to italicize. I am trying to get through a huge backlog from past years, while going through up to 300 new entries each day looking for errors so egregious that I can spot them (and leaving the rest of the identifications to others), so I am not going to slow down to do mark up.


In the genus I often identify the common name in England is different than the US common name and nothing like the translation of the Russian common name. And there are areas in England and the US that also have very local nick names. Like it or not, I need to use the scientific name on identifications.


Not sure if you already use the 3-letter shorcut for genus species spelling. If not, it might help with the backlog. You don’t need to type out the entire genus and part of species, often just remembering the first 3 of each is enough to bring up the right taxon.

For example: