Translations of common names into foreign languages?

Needing to translate a website into Spanish and am wondering whether the common names of the plants should also be in Spanish? (For example, Showy Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium reginae) The translator wondered because they assume the common name is considered a proper name so I felt the best place to ask is right here. Thank you.

1 Like

If you use common names, then translate them, if not, you can add them if it’s not too complicated.
ups. of course I mean add actual common names, not just translate them.


Maybe worth asking this question in General - Español so a Spanish speaker can provide a common name? Forgive my very poor Spanglish, something like:

Often, right below the taxonomy information, there is a section called Names which shows names in many languages. Unfortunately, a Spanish name hasn’t been added yet to the taxon.

Lastly, you can always transliterate the name, not as though that ever changes the meaning like with “meatball” here:


I can’t speak for plant names, but a lot of the Spanish-language common names for Mexican amphibians and reptiles are not simply direct translations from the English-language name for species that also occur north of the border in the U.S. The naturalists/herpetologists in Mexico have their own common names, derived from their own local culture/history with the species. I have a book somewhere with Spanish-language common names for herps in Mexico. Of course there can be multiple common names in Spanish depending on what part of the Spanish-speaking world you’re talking about.


I would definitely not just literally translate English common names into another language. Like @jnstuart says, many common names come from a place’s own culture and history and might be completely different from the English common name.


I agree, that’s probably a bad idea.

There’s another option which I’ve seen with some taxa, like Fourleaf Manyseed (Polycarpon tetraphyllum), where the common name is directly taken from translating the scientific name. Not very useful with things named after people though, like Weed’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus weedii).

However, I think it’s always best to learn a local name for something from whomever interacts with the taxon, if possible. I’m not sure what this means for cases where the local language is different than target audience, in which case there may not be a common name. Making up a common name isn’t great either, as pointed out by @henryy1355 in this comment in topic: Scientific names in italics in ID remarks and comments.

1 Like

One thing I did when I needed local common names for Costa Rican plants was plug the scientific name in Spanish Wikipedia and use what I found on the species page there. However, this was more for bureaucratic purposes than actual communication. (The permit people would reject forms if they had no common names, regardless of how informative or uninformative they were.) So I would do some checking to make sure the names are correct for your audience.

Also, at least for higher taxonomic groups, Spanish common names are more commonly based on the scientific name than in English. Ex. hemípteros for Hemiptera, fabáceas for Fabaceae, etc.


If possible I would replace the names to the ones commonly used in the area. For example the Crested Caracara is commonly called Carancho in Mexico, most online translators will just translated the Crested part. If not possible you can go either three ways,
a) ignoring the common names,
b) translating the names literally, or
c) not translating the names at all,

c) is my personal favorite, since you’ll get accustomed as how it is called. Though the downfall is that it sticks out like a sore thumb. I live in Mexico, so if you have any doubts on any animal or plant, I could probably help somewhat, though you can also search the species name in spanish wikipedia.


Spanish is SOO WIDE, it depend of the country, and even the town. My comments it would be, focus in the country and try to find a speaker in that area who could help you to translate the names :)


Honestly yeah, I live in Mexico up in the North, and it’s so different how other people call things down south. And in other countries it’s practically unrecognizable.


The Spanish common names I have learned seldom have anything do with translations from English. (And isn’t that rather a colonial idea?) A few examples: Petiveria alliacea, which (according to iNat) is called “guinea-hen weed” in English, is known to Dominicans I talk to as anamú. (Strangely, iNat uses anamu as the “English” name of an unrelated plant, Pavonia fruticosa.) They know the word guinea (with the “a” as a third syllable) for guinea hens; but they would have no idea what you meant if you referred to “hierba de guinea.”

Similarly, Wallenia laurifolia has no English common name at all on iNat, but Dominicans tell me that it is called caimoní.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.