The Right of a Fly to a Common Name

That’s very fair, but when you have a group with say 40-50 species, all rather similar and from a “non-charismatic” group, that’s when I feel the names become a bit redundant. I wasn’t meaning to discount cases involving unique or interesting organisms where the common names is useful for encouraging public awareness or just general interest.

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But ladybug common names are extremely useful, yes, you have to search through them first, seeing the variation, but then it saves time a lot to type in a common name other than lerning which genus this particular ladybug belongs to.

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Of course - they are no different from any other names in that regard. But as I said previously, it all depends on how the names are used, rather than on what the names are.

If you already know that the observation is of Subcoccinella vigintiquatuorpunctata, it’s nice to have “24” as a shortcut to save typing. However, it’s not so nice that less knowledgeable users think that any ladybird that appears to have 24 spots is Subcoccinella vigintiquatuorpunctata.

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Regardless though - isn’t a more community-centred process like this at least closer to the actual formation of common names than putting it solely in the hand of a single expert?

Boaty McBoatface to me just sounds like the submarine equivalent of Mountain Chicken and Lumpy Horse.

Common names maintain currency where there’s a practical need for them. If the names aren’t being used, they quickly fall out of use. That’s just normal language evolution. It seems to me that communities of professionals and other dedicated enthusiasts are most likely to regularly use these names, so they should have the largest say in coining them. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally opening up the process as a public relations excercise - even if it produces wilfuly silly names like Boaty McBoatFace. However, I feel it would be a mistake to allow that to become the norm. For one thing, it would surely risk alienating the people who dedcate much of their lives to the study of often very obscure groups of organisms (and usually with very little material reward or recognition).

People can make up and use whatever daft informal names they please without fear of any unwanted consequences. Creating canonical common names for use by the scientific community is a very different proposition.

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Young kids deal with names like Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Pterosaur, and others that I can’t spell. People of all ages can deal with scientific names if they’re interested in distinguishing the species, and if they’re not, English or Spanish or Lithuanian names* are unlikely to help. If you want to make up common names, go for it (there’s no rule against it) but dealing with one set of names is enough of a challenge for my memory.

  • I was going to write, “common names” but if we have to make them up, they aren’t common.
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Most of those are at least commonly used names in English though. In the case of Hawaii, the Hawaiian names are the only ones used in English as well, and these weird names only seem to be used in the horticulture trade or in lists like in iNat.

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The strange complication of this is that many international tourists visiting Aotearoa NZ, and I imagine much the same in Hawaii, go around looking for Australasian swamphens, blue wattled crows and parson birds rather than pūkeko, kōkako and tūī. There may be these English names, but they aren’t actually used by locals and by the use of English names it has complicated communication rather than clarifying anything. It seems the assumption made is that the English name is the common/legitimate one even where it is not.

The middle ground we’ve met for many of the native birds is to also put their commonly used name in te reo Mа̄ori as an English name (as when speaking English you still do use their original names) and setting them as the default name, at least for some of those where the English name isn’t commonly used like the above examples. Still, many birds that the English name simply isn’t used often still have it as the default- pūkeko (at least at species level), tawaki, hoiho, etc.

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That’s just it, there actually aren’t any like that. There are a handful of birds, such as the Maui parrotbill and crested honeycreeper, where there was no Hawaiian name (there may have been at some point but it was lost before being recorded), and people have been pushing to use recently coined Hawaiian names instead, but that’s kind of different. With the plants, nobody shows up looking for the hillside false ohelo or the forest wild coffee. These names simply aren’t in real use anywhere, they’re just coined by somebody far away who has never actually seen it in the wild and maybe not at all.

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https://twitter.com/PoorMatty/status/1305625881659011072

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It makes me think of plants. Some of the “coined common names” just seem silly to me – make the genus into the “common” name, and translate the specific epithet into an adjective. For instance, in a wildflower guide to the Pacific States, I find Pogoyne douglasii with the “common” name Douglas’ pogoyne. A few pages away, Dudleya lanceolata is the lanceleaf dudleya. How does that help?

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Makes sense. It’s not like English has had many problems with using loan words. We borrow vocabulary constantly!

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But what’s wrong with that? Genus latin names are always transcripted to antother language, because that’s what people call them at first - latin names, as those objects weren’t with local people before science started naming them, e.g. дудлея was always called like that, cause it’s a New World genus and there’s no real common name. It does help.

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James Nicoll said, “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.”

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Touché.

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All those pickpocketed words, are why English is so hard to spell.

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