Species Only Common Name Causes Misidentifications - What to do?

Although I’m unfamiliar with making name changes for that reason, I’ve heard of some changes for that reason, e.g. in insects. I’d be interested to learn about those name changes you referred to, if you want to share the taxon pages via direct message. My understanding so far is those names can change faster than some others, as you imply. I’m surprised if anyone implied thinking you didn’t do enough if you tried to change names. I’d suggest, getting more a consensus view from people including curators before changing names even for that reason, to know which really should change, and how to change them. People that want those names changed, if it was a normal sounding name that wasn’t originally intended to offend, should understand that a consideration/discussion about changing is still addressing the question but can take a little time. Having said that, I have no idea what kinds of examples you’re referring to. I don’t think the responsibility is all up to one person/curator. I don’t think common names have no use. It’s good to have a an easier way to read the names when wanted. I actually wish all species had common names.

1 Like

I’m not comfortable sharing the specific names because: a) I was accused in the first instance in being too hasty in deleting it; and b) in the second instance I took on board the feedback from the first instance and decided not to be “hasty” and discuss things in a way that, I thought, was objective only to be told that discussion was not permissible (despite the purported offensive name being in bold on the taxon info page, so the first thing anyone sees). The other curator didn’t “imply” I should not have defended the common name, they said “you are not allowed to discuss this” (paraphrased). So I won’t. In the other case when I was “too hasty” I deleted the name of the northern chink moth, or something like that. To me, chink in that context is not derogatory (it’s a legit word) but I deleted it anyway. So when a few days/weeks later a similar objection to a common name came up I tried to be objective and did not delete the common name and got told off. So, as said, cannot win.

Edit: And, so, I am not going to enter such debates at all anymore I don’t think. I am the most non-racist person you could ever meet. I left the conversation feeling accused of supporting racism and that offended me a lot. I felt that I let myself down, I felt that I let my dearly loved dead father down. I actually cried. Feeling like this is not why I am on iNat


Maybe you should privately contact staff, or some more private chat with curators, to ask/discuss what happened. There may be a way to avoid feeling blamed in the future.

1 Like

Maybe. I’d rather just try and forget it though.

As an aside, I’d like to apologise for taking this thread somewhat off-topic, but I do think it’s important to note that curators have feelings as well and we’re confronted with this stuff like common names every day. I can’t speak for others but sometimes the decisions I make hurt me. It’s not easy.

Edit: the thing that annoys me most is that the comments I made are there on the flag forever. I could delete them because they seemed to be misunderstood. But because people replied I cannot do that without making the problem even worse. I wish there was a way to delete every single comment made on the flag. Maybe staff can do it, I don’t know.

Probably talk to staff, or try editing comments. I don’t really know what happened in the situation, but just giving advice. In the future, I think of flags as fairly public, as far as what’s on iNat. And so if you have some concern about a common name discussion, maybe ask someone in a private context what they’d advise first. Or, just avoid those name decisions and leave them up to someone else.

I’m sure people will continue the original aster leafminer discussion, although I’ve mostly said everything I had to say on it.

And the iNat policy on common names is:

  • Try to add names that have been used elsewhere. Please don’t invent new names.
1 Like

If you don’t use them, doesn’t mean others don’t, there’re tons of new names that are useful. There’re other topics discussing offensive names, why write about it here and not there? This is completely different situation

@bobby23 Curious to know your opinion, given you mentioned this exact species on that flesh fly thread?

Me and Charley brought this to question because we do know. Or at least, we have enough experience with leafminers to call this out as a problem. Charley is the author of many new leafminer species and publications on that subject, and the leading expert on this group at this time, involving the same region this species is from. I’ve seen a good proportion of the “aster” feeding species in my time similarly, in that genus and others. It’s not just speculation on our end that this name is a problem.

With my plant background, I can say that even seeing “Aster sp.” as a host name is fraught with problems. That was a former mega genus name which has since been split into a large number of subgroups such as Symphyotrichum, Erigeron, and so on. Almost all references to “Aster” are old references that now refer to new genera names.


I acknowledge you two have experience, more me than me overall, for this group. You may have a good point which may be correct. But, I’d just prefer we find the original source explaining the basis for the name clearly first (the one cited by ITIS), to further confirm. Even though I have less experience, I did infer from the GBIF field guide-like notes that not all the species have Asteraceae hosts. Although I didn’t check every species, this one may have been the only to specifically list Aster, especially as the first listed. I noted some of the other spp. (scientific names or common names) are named after different plants (Goldenrods, Mallow). Possibly (though uncertain), there are some distinctive features about the aster leafminer name meaning. e.g. if it has more Asteraceae hosts or is more specialized vs. related leafminer spp. I infer it’s very abundant, so the name may translate to something like “common aster leafminer.” Somewhat speculating, possibly it had a large detrimental effect on cultivated plants (given it was common). Species commonness itself can in some cases justify giving it a common name, or a more general one. Although if a new name were created (which doesn’t seem to be the case here), I agree it’s often helpful to include a word indicating range (e.g. Eastern/Western if applicable) or in some way specifying/distinguishing the spp. more compared to more general names.

I don’t think the name is so bad that it has to be removed. Your reasoning that the name may be somewhat vague or could also apply to other spp. may turn out correct, but I’d like us to check the original source. Even if your reasoning turns out correct, I think there is some good reason to still keep the name, as explained. Somewhat comparable to names like Common Eastern Bumblebee. In fact if we look at almost any large genus (e.g. in bees or wasps), we’ll find many names that are somewhat redundant, vague, which could apply to others, etc., and yet we’re not removing or changing almost any of those. That’s my current position. So, we don’t necessarily disagree on some of the individual points (I’m not claiming the name is a great descriptive name, either). Also, the original naming source is hard for anyone to find. Maybe I or someone could contact ITIS to ask what it is. That’s why I prefer such changes not made too quickly, it feels rushed to me.

Yes I said it was slightly off-topic, but a made up common name is surely potential for misidentification (?) I didn’t mean that others don’t common names just that I think that no common name at all is better for avoiding misidentification rather than one that’s used only on iNat and no where else. Perhaps I didn’t explain myself well or this doesn’t belong in this topic at all (although I think it does). If my posts really don’t belong here then I can delete them and re-post somewhere else if you let me know :)

There’s no need to do it, but if you really want to discuss it you can ask moderators to open those old topics as they’re both long and I’m pretty sure closed.
People relying on common names is more of a problem than names themselves imo, if we teach them not to do it we could avoid it. Also from what I read why not add another word for this name to divide this from other miners?

The name in question is not a made-up one though but is used on ITIS. There are lots of common names that are misleading, especially for plants. Example: club mosses, reindeer mosses, Iris moss, Spanish moss etc., none of which are actually mosses, half of them not even plants. Does that mean iNat shouldn’t be using any of these either? Where is the line between a misleading common name being “established enough” to be used versus deleted? Misleading common names are a fact that we can’t get around, at least on the botany side, so it doesn’t really matter to have one more. It’s just another tiny drop in an already full bucket so to speak. We do use these clearly misleading examples as a way to teach our botany students why scientists don’t rely on common names but use scientific names instead.


Brown Headed Gulls

And Brown Hooded Gulls

1 Like

One update about aster leafminer, is I got a reply from ITIS about their citation for the common name:

“Stoetzel, 1933” is most likely a typo for a 1993 edition of this publication. The vernacular “aster leafminer” for Calycomyza humeralis can be traced to this 1977 publication.

That publication explains the name was officially added, although doesn’t detail why. I can see both sides of the debate over this name somewhat, but think greater research into names should be done before removing them, in case it somehow had a distinctive meaning, and that common names (in most cases) are best to at most change vs. delete.

I originally read this to mean “a bad common name is the best possible kind of common name”!


Well, it seems to be the most frequent kind, anyway. Most common names seem to come about much the same way cats’ given names do: if a cat has white paws, what are the odds that it has some other name than Socks or Boots? People just name things for whatever trait they first notice.


I agree with everything you’ve said, @annkatrinrose I sometimes find vernacular names just weird. For example, in my area everyone calls Acacia melanoxylon “sally wattle”. I don’t know why. Is “sally” a proper noun needing capitalisation? I don’t know. 100km away from me, and for most of Australia, people call A. melanoxylon “black wattle” which at least makes some sense given the epithet :) In my writing I always use the scientific name but depending on the intended audience will give the vernacular name(s) in parenthesis. E.g. in a restoration plan meant to be read by a relatively wide audience I’ll give vernacular names even if they don’t make sense to me because I understand that these are the names many people use, even if they’re not specific and don’t make sense – but I’ll always give the botanical name as well. In something that’s meant to be read only by botanists/ecologists/legislators/etc I’ll just use the botanical name and not bother with vernacular names at all (there’s no point).

1 Like