The Right of a Fly to a Common Name

I’d say that Yellow Flat-footed Fly is a particularly unwieldy string too though, no?
And is apricot not more descriptive than yellow? It was pointed out by a member of the Facebook group as looking like an apricot at least… so this comes from a second source, not me.

As an amateur, which is where I presumed common names to come most into play, being told that Platypezidae tend to circle on leaves has been far more helpful for me in searching for them in the field than knowing that they have flat-feet. So how about The Circling Apricot vs Yellow Flat-footed Fly?
Now which is more descriptive and who gets to decide?

Regardless, are the most memorable common names really so connected to taxonomy or descriptors anyway? I’m not sure I see how whimsy is more or less memorable for creating a name in life in general…for me I’d assume this is exactly the kind of place where whimsy can be most effective. As a child at least, the most whimsical sounding plant and bird names would be the ones which I would likely remember the most. I get that there is a boundary here though, and if every species in a genus of 20 has a totally different name, this could be problematic.

What are these Russian common names you mentioned? I’m curious to hear them now…

One of the various things that lead me to asking this was noting that Entomophthora is now called Fly Death Fungus on iNaturalist. Much easier to remember ! (and spell). I can’t see mention of this on Google outside of iNaturalist beyond a single Flickr post. Should an external source of a single person on Flickr be any more authoritative than a single post on iNaturalist? In fact, if I was to add a name for a taxa and that was then used by everyone who finds it, isn’t iNaturalist already creating more “common” names than a single Flickr post? Wouldn’t iNaturalist also plausibly be used as a source for other external bodies? If not, at what point would you see iNaturalist as an acceptable source in and of itself?

Most Diptera just don’t have common names in literature - so if reliant on external sources, they have to remain nameless. Remaining nameless, arguably, just increases their chance of continuing to be ignored.

Platypezidae (family) are known as “flat-footed flies” therefore this yellow one got the simple addition of “yellow” at some stage.


iNat’s not usable on Wikipedia as a reliable source for common names; there is a whole section in their policies about sites like this (user-generated content).


A common name, is one with a history, of being used by many people. Part of tradition and oral history. Been passed down thru generations.

We have an insect called a hummingbird hawkmoth. That name works in the USA (but we don’t have hummingbirds in South Africa)
To me it looks like a tiny furry Flying Crayfish. A meaningful name. But only to me. Flying crayfish is arbitrary NOT common.


Ok interesting.

What about those without common names though then?
There will never be any kind of source for these until someone creates one.

Lets say, I, as an amateur naturalist, have seen a living example of a species more than anyone else in the world. Why shouldn’t I have as much right as anyone else to be the one to suggest a common name for the species? And if I did, where would I suggest it that would then be an acceptable source? Scholarship and peer review, for example…as mentioned in the Wikipedia article on reliable sources…don’t seem very applicable in the instance of common names…

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If the cut-off point is actual common-use, doesn’t this just exacerbate the existing marginalisation of less well-known taxa?

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One reason why posted text on places like Flickr, Instagram, blogs etc can’t be really used as sourcing for names is it is impossible to delineate if the text is meant as a name or a description.

I may have a Flickr photo of Branta canadensis marked as ‘Portable Poop Machine’, that does not in any way I am suggesting that is the name for it.

Putting aside the question of how names get adopted, the site policy here is clear. Directly copied from the page where names are added ’ Please don’t invent new names.’


The examples you give (Tree Moss and Maritime Sunburst Lichen) are charismatic names. The OP’s suggestion of “Flying Apricot” would thus be “bad” because it’s a dipthera, not a stone fruit. If your criteria is that common names should be descriptive only, then I feel you’re going to have trouble getting a consensus…not just in iNat, but in the larger world where common names are in use more…commonly.

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I’m not denying there may be bad names. I’m asking what is the criteria? Your examples are bad because they are charismatic rather than descriptive? Or because they cause confusion (which, honestly, most charismmatic names do)?

I’m not saying I disagree, I’m asking what is the codified, objective standard for what is bad (barring ethically problematic names, as I already mentioned in the initial post)?


Yes, I think reading that was one of the triggers for my post…and, with cases where they are inappropriate I understand the need for some kind of regulation in this area.

Just curious about the bigger picture here.

I don’t think anyone would mistake a fly for a fruit any more than they’d mistake a frog for a chicken.
I’d argue there is humour and memorability in more absurd common names like Mountain Chicken.

These are different to the ones posted by @bazwal and @jurga_li.
These are not absurd…they just actually sound like accurate descriptors but are not.
Someone might well mistake moss for lichen.
And would likely be mislead into thinking that Maritime Sunburst Lichen would occur by the sea.
Ditto in examples by @bazwal - they are misleading.

So I think one objective criteria for good or bad common names then is certainly the real…or in their examples, proven, potential to mislead. I think in the case of the Yellow Flat-Footed Fly vs The Flying Apricot though, there is more or at least equal chance of being mislead by the known common name as there is by my suggestion, good or bad as it may be.


Guinea pig hardly belongs to Artiodactyla :-) So, I would think that there are two criteria for good common names: the name is very well established in common language, if not, then it should be as little misleading as possible.


So, if the species is without an established name, you would prefer it to remain nameless?

the one that immediately come’s to mind is “Chinamen’s Hat”, used for a large, plate-like species that looks a bit like the broad-rimmed hat worn in China. It’s a whimsical name, but one that provides no context for what type of coral that species is.

and some of his names were openly misleading, like his invention of “Pore Corals” for Montipora, a group that is not especially porous and naturally causes confusion with the common Porites, which is very porous. I could go on and on with examples from that truly awful guide. the problem is, his names have been digitized and eventually found their way onto the internets, where they’ve been gobbled up by databases and then spread on to places like iNaturalist. I regularly find myself having to flag these obscure names (I also did so with the “Fly Death Fungi” example that you alluded to)

For a good example of how new common names can be established, see the recent field guide to North American syrphid flies. Insects are, with few exceptions, a group whose species-level and genus-level biodiversity rarely has associated common names, so the authors (a group of taxonomists who did considerable research for this publication) established a new series of names in the manner I discussed in my previous post. Every genus has a consistent common name, which is modified with an adjective for species-level.

The key points there are that the authors are experts in their field and thoughtfully coined names for the group as a whole in a major published work. This is the BEST way for such names to be established, but of course not the only way in which such names come about (particularly for those with an older provenance). If every user on here started coining their own parallel nomenclature, it would lead to uninformative chaos. I think camels should be called Lumpy Horses… and parrots ought to be Squawky Rainbow Dinosaurs. Are these any less appropriate than the Flying Apricot?


Marginalisation? That’s an interesting choice of word.

Your topic title really isn’t where this discussion has landed. Anyway, you or anyone else can invent whatever name you like for whatever species you like. Whether it becomes an accepted common name is a matter of cultural processes. Whether you may enter it into iNat is a matter of iNat policy and for reasons that make good sense the policy is that you may not.

People everywhere name things to enable communicating about them. If we don’t talk about them we don’t name them. Large things, dangerous things, annoying things tend to have common names. Small things, obscure things, invisible things tend not to have common names. “Common” names invented by specialists mean nothing in conversation with non-specialists because they aren’t…well, common.

Many efforts have been made to standardize or functionalize naming. Most fail. Even the ones that seem to work, like the efforts of various ornithological unions and birding associations to standardize naming conventions, only succeed, at least in the short term, in a small circle of people. Vultures are still called buzzards in the US and Canada. Longtailed ducks are still referred to using racially insensitive language.

For what it’s worth, your proposed approach is more branding than naming. You want to increase the species’ profile, which can look like but isn’t really the same as facilitating communication. With millions of species that are both unnamed and undescribed there will be lots of opportunity for new names but also an awful lot of competition for attention.

The most interesting thing about this subject is how often it keeps cropping up on this forum. People clearly really like the idea of being the one who puts the labels on things.


They are bad because they don’t take any account of the variation. They focus on a supposed “typical” form that often isn’t really typical. Common names are bad for the same reason that stereotypes are bad.

You ignored/didn’t include the second half of the sentence from @jurga_li:

  1. the name is very well established in common language,
  2. if not, then it should be as little misleading as possible.

A little unfair, I think.


For the record, I absolutely do think “camels should be called Lumpy Horses… and parrots ought to be Squawky Rainbow Dinosaurs”.

These are the kind of wonderful common names I wish we could create in Diptera. I also see no reason for a plurality of common names such as these not to be celebrated, for the reasons @jdmore stated.

That’s a shame. I liked that one. I don’t see that this does any harm, in this instance. It just seems like a practical addition to the site.

To be clear, this isn’t about me having a single voice in that regard. I’m not bothered about being “the one”. I hope my comments don’t come across that way. Its more about taxa where there are no or very few existing voices. So if there is to be a voice, why not listen to many voices, given the existing ethos of the site.

Are certain taxonomic groups not marginalised?
Is the lack of common names in lesser-known taxonomic groups not symptomatic of a bigger picture?

Yes. It got derailed by talk of Flying Apricots I think.
I’m really more interested in the broader structural issues at play.

It was the immediate post before.
My comment was only relevant to that part of her comment.

I can delete the quote entirely though if you / @jurga_li think its clearer… no intention to mislead.

@ whaichi has answered that already. As to the creation of the new common names, here is an example how we do it in Lithuania: new common names are created by specialists and they must follow very strict (almost frightening) rules of our language. They must be possibly easy to pronounce in Lithuanian and are binominal, like Latin: species name is preferably descriptive; if a species is named after a person, the person’s name is usually not used for a common name, new, descriptive name is created. Sometimes historical and linguistic sources are used, for example names used in dialects (of which we have few).