What does it take to assign a species a common name?

What does it take to officially assign a common name to a species? Do I have to be a scientist/researcher etc. to give a species a common name?
For example:
Giving Xanthorhoe defensaria the common name “Defensive Carpet”
Giving Orthosia pacifica the common name “Pacific Quaker”
Giving Operophtera occidentalis the common name “Brown-arched Winter Moth”


This is quite the controversial topic, with lots of gray area, but common names can’t be created by one person according to site policies. They should be generally accepted by the community first. Although clearly the name has to start somewhere, and I know lots of publications where common names are invented on the spot.


Can you give me a link / directions to one of these species naming publications?

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For X. defensaria I already refer to it as the Defensive Carpet Moth in my head since it’s easier to remember anyways.



No thanks. I’ll stick with Ichy!

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The current name Ichneumonid Wasps works okay for now. Coining a new name would be good too, which I’d prefer to be a descriptive name.


One thing I don’t get, I’ve seen common names on iNat that were removed in spite of (apparently) being a commonly excepted name. Like Abrupt Digger Bee (Anthophora abrupta), the fact that the common name is the same as the scientific kind of annoyed me when it was removed. Another was Bumble Bee-Mimic Digger Bee (Anthophora bomboides). Having common names really does help when I’m trying to help new people get interested in what’s outside.


That doesn’t sound as a valid reason at all, most scientific-common names come from latin names, it’s >90% names of plants and invertebrates, and common in birds and mammals, so they should be added back imo if it was the only reason to remove them.

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There’s a good amount of previous discussion of this topic and surrounding issues on the forum that is relevant. Searching old forum posts is often a good place to start with questions like these as they may have an answer to questions or help to refine a question:


Name changes are now recorded in the taxon history for each species. You can view it from the Curation button and then could discuss with any users who changed names.

I’d also support the trend to directly translate/derive common names from a scientific names for applicable species, which is sometimes done in literature, although I don’t know what the current iNat policy is for taxa for which even those kinds of common names haven’t been used in literature. I also check Bug Guide to see what names they use, although some known names aren’t yet listed there.


INat policy is common names should not be invented on the iNat platform. They should come from outside sources and have some history of use by naturalists, biologists, etc.

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I mean for the specific area where common names are derived from scientific names. For example, Ichneumonid Wasps is currently used on iNat, based on family Ichneumonidae. I’m unsure whether sources use ichneumonid wasps formally, and if they do I don’t know whether they only use it in lower case, e.g. saying “ichneumonid, pompilid, and crabronid wasps were studied.” It seems to be more of a gray area and also difficult to fact check one way or the other. Or it could vary, where some families are referred to by common names in outside sources but others aren’t.

It’s fairly standard in biology to use a lower-case derivative of the family name when discussing the taxon informally—e.g… the cat family Felidae includes the felids. A dog is a canid.

Honestly I think the common name policy sort of falls apart once you start looking at it from a perspective that isn’t tetrapods or terrestrial plants. So many freshwater fish, aquatic plants, bugs, etc. have common names that just sort of come from nowhere, particularly with a lot of them just sort of invented by hobbyists and wholesalers


I agree. So would you say those can or shouldn’t be use as iNat common names, e.g. Canids or Ichneumonid Wasps? And would this change if an outside source were to also or only use them in upper case? I actually don’t remember for Ichneumonid Wasps who added the name and whether it’s been used in lower and/or upper case in outside sources.

In my opinion those would be fine. As for the case for common names, I’m not sure that’s uniform even within iNaturalist—there is variation in use of upper vs lower case. Some of that depends on the higher-level taxon from what I’ve seen.

Here’s three from one paper:

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And most of the common names in this book were probably invented by the authors. There are numerous minute, deep water, and otherwise infrequently encountered species that have no common names, but the authors assigned a common name to each one. Many are clearly just translations of the Latin.

I wouldn’t consider these “common names”, and their inclusion on iNat annoys me. I think of them as an easy way to say “members of __ family”. Dropping the ae doesn’t make them any more “common” or any more user-friendly for non-scientists. But some are used so frequently (especially for vertebrates) that people think of them as common names. As for capitalization, that’s in the site policy:


Well, I’m unsure if all common names derived from family names are the same kind, because it may be that some portion are more widely used in external sources than others, although they do essentially all seem similar in originating from scientific names. I haven’t added many if any of that kind of name, although do prefer them if there’s no other substitute. Even just dropping the “ae” does seem make them slightly more readable, including to non-scientists (although observation and identification is science too). I similarly prefer to have common names at every taxon rank. That said, I prefer unique/descriptive names where available. For example, Pompilidae wasps could be called Pompilid Wasps but the descriptive name currently in use Spider Wasps is even better. Also usefully, iNat allows users to change their settings so they view scientific names first for any who don’t prefer common names. For me reading common names (first, at least) is just faster.

This is also something that has also puzzled me. Take the infraorder Helicoidei, with the common name Helicoid and Sagdoid Land Snails—an amalgamation of the common names from its two subfamilies, which in turn were derived from the scientific names. I fail to see how that name is helpful.

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