What to do about silly common names?

I recently stumbled upon Polydrusus formosus, which has a common name on iNaturalist listed as the “Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil”. I find this name silly in the sense that it’s used worldwide, however the weevil itself possesses and extensive native range throughout much of Europe. I understand it may have been introduced into other countries, but by iNaturalist using this common name they are very much creating and distributing knowledge of this “common name” throughout the world. If a common name is going to be universally utilized throughout the world, surely a name should be chosen for people to use globally to avoid confusion? This is a global site after all?

iNaturalist basically has the power to spread information on species common names. I’ve heard some very strange common names invented by silly people before online. I assume all it takes is one silly person to invent a silly name for a less known species, then tons of other people see it used online and think that is the “common name” and start distributing it and using it themselves as over time google search results will start filling up with people and websites that have used it’s common name. The result is a snowball effect, all it takes is one person to start it off.

I don’t think there is an issue with creating common names for species, but I do see an issue with inventing common names and distributing them on iNaturalist when the species itself clearly isn’t going to be an immigrant globally, yet the name is being used globally on this site.

Common names aren’t official of course, and some can be incorrect. Sometimes an organism might have a countries name in it’s common name, but be present in far more countries or maybe not even from that country. That is less than ideal of course, but we’re living in an age of greater understanding with knowledge at our finger tips and should try and step away from ignorance. Most people who hear the name “green immigrant leaf weevil” are going to think it’s not a native species, regardless of where in the world they’re located, from the United States or Europe… iNaturalist has the opportunity to fix this, even if the name was “Eurasian Green Leaf Weevil” it’d be far better than what it is now.


Inventing common names is forbidden on iNat. Suppressing widely used common names is not, at least in practice. Just find a curator who agrees with you.


Doesn’t look like there is an alternative English common name on iNat for that weevil so that name, which presumably is in use somewhere outside of iNat, is the default. If you can find an alternative English name somewhere in use, that could be added to the names list on iNat.

Edit: By “somewhere in use” I mean in a scientific publication, field guide, etc. and not as an invention on a website like Facebook, a chat group, or on iNat.


It’s worth remembering, in this context, that what common name you see depends in large part on where you are. (Or, at least, on what location settings you’re using.) In other countries, especially with other languages, other names will pop up.


Interesting points. Common names seem rather problematic for invertebrates, as there are just so many species out there.
My backstory–circa 2004, in the early days of BugGuide (restricted to USA + Canada invertebrates), as an editor, I tried to coin appropriate common names for species which had none. I also tried to find common names in French and Spanish, but those were really scarce. Native American name lists were even more scarce in material I could find. I soon gave up, as inventing appropriate names was so difficult. I have been amused to see a few of my coinages got picked up over the years.
I will note that many of the long-established English common names for North American moths are silly, and a few are somewhat offensive. The underwing moths, Catocala species, have a number of established problematic names: “The Girlfriend”, “The Wife”, etc. Those names haven’t aged well. I believe these were coined, or at least popularized, by the accomplished student of Lepidoptera, WJ Holland.
So, to summarize this overly long post, I like the idea of common names as a way to increase appreciation of biodiversity. It has worked fairly well with birds, mammals, flowering plants, and some groups of invertebrates. Unfortunately, there are a number of silly, offensive, or inaccurate names in wide use. It seems really hard to fix this issue, and it seems difficult to orchestrate a good process for the future.


I think all the taxonomic groups you mention in which there are fairly good established common names had a naming committee behind them which published the names in some format, such as in a regional or global checklist. That process provided a way to address those names that were inaccurate, inappropriate, or lacking. But that takes organization and effort by a group of specialists.

Edit: Those Underwing moths certainly have some interesting names based on marital and emotional status.


Create a flag and ask for deleting the common name because it is not apt.

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I agree with you that common names have an important role in enhancing accessibility and appreciation of living things. I don’t especially need any encouragement to appreciate these things, but I still find them useful, and sometimes delightful. Nothing wrong with that per se.

It’s probably OK that we have some degree of clutter and confusion in the common name system. We have a formal system of taxonomic names, which seems like the perfect solution to that problem. We could choose to just enjoy and accept the history and flaws of common names as a curiosity, knowing that when it really matters, we’ve got the right tool for that circumstance. Needing perfection in all things is a great way to generate more angst than progress, I think. :-)

As a current wife and former girlfriend, I don’t actually see the problem with those names; I would struggle to take offense. There’s nothing wrong with being a wife or girlfriend, so I’m not sure where the naming error lies? Maybe I’d feel differently about the “Wendyjelga is a Jerkface Moth”. Unless there are royalty payments involved… ;-)


I struggle to see why these “silly” common names are an issue? Like what’s the actual problem here?


I think the issue here is probably that this is a North American common name, but it’s visible in Europe… where the name makes little sense given it’s not an immigrant if I understand correctly.

I don’t think there is a way to make it invisible in Europe? ( without having an alternative to put in and give priority to ) - this is a problem.

I can’t see a clear source for it online, but it is mentioned on multiple sites.
Though Wikipedia references iNaturalist for the name.
Also a problem (but on the Wikipedia side)


Green immigrant leaf weevil is named such because it has high adaptability and the ability to immigrate to many other places. It doesn’t imply that it isn’t native somewhere. iNaturalist doesn’t create common names.

“I assume all it takes is one silly person to invent a silly name for a less known species, then tons of other people see it used online and think that is the “common name” and start distributing it and using it themselves as over time google search results will start filling up with people and websites that have used it’s common name. The result is a snowball effect, all it takes is one person to start it off.”

That is exactly how a common name might come about, in fact it’s probably how MANY have. The point of iNaturalist listing common names isn’t to establish/spread a specific common name, but to allow someone to find a species they only know the common name of. If “green immigrant leaf weevil” is a commonly used name, and iNat removed it, then anyone trying to find that species might have a difficult time.

surely a name should be chosen for people to use globally to avoid confusion?

That is the point of the scientific name. A scientific name is universally synonymous (taxonomy debates aside) across all languages. The point of a common name is an easier to remember and pronounce name, often specific to a language.

It’s also worth noting, like others here have said, that the common names you see on iNat are not necessarily displayed globally. It displays the common name most relevant to you based on your region. Lets use the “Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil” as our example again. While maybe the UK doesn’t have a different regional name, much of Europe does! In most European countries, the name translates to something with 2 or 3 of the adjectives: “Silky, Glossy, Green, Leaf” weevil.

I do think there are instances where common names become blatantly misleading or outdated (such as “American Cockroaches”, who are native to Africa and the Middle East, or the still somewhat prevalent common names of Acronicta retardata and Tradescantia zebrina). In the latter instances there’s been effort to popularize new common names, which are now the first to appear when searching for the species. I’m not sure exactly how the change was accomplished. For whatever reason the name “American Cockroach” will not go away in the US.


I did find some sources using the name ‘Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil’ (or some variation of it) from 2006, which would mean the name predates iNat.

Screenshot 2024-06-17 2.03.14 PM

Screenshot 2024-06-17 2.06.08 PM

I’m less sure about BugGuide. How are names added to that site?
Screenshot 2024-06-17 2.07.50 PM

Although this does seem to be an established and widely used common name for this species, there has been increasing effort to change common names that link “pest” species with groups of people (see https://doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmad042 and https://www.entsoc.org/publications/common-names/better-common-names-project). iNaturalist and its users are in a position to aid, or at least not hinder, these efforts. Finding a better common name for this weevil would be a step in the right direction, in my view.


I don’t see why common names need to be 100% accurate.


iNat should use whatever common makes it easiest for people to find a species. Making up new common names makes it more difficult for users to find the species they are looking for.


I’ve noticed some new common names lately for organisms that had no common name. Such as the common micropanther, maroon-legged panther fly and tuberculated crab spider.

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There are certainly some silly scientific names which, of course, we are now stuck with even if the joke has kind of worn thin. Uma thurmanae springs to mind.

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Changing common names is a little counter intuitive though, at least how iNat defines a common name. A journal can choose to switch to a new common name like Gypsy moth to Spongy moth and we can change the default common name on iNat, but iNat still needs to be able accommodate the actual language people use. So we couldn’t simply delete Gypsy moth from the database without making the website less functional.


This is misleading, as a curator who deals with these issues I will say that reasons are supposed to be given for name deletions, they are not supposed to be arbitrary. I have never seen a flag objecting to a widely used common name resolved by removing the name entirely, the closest that I have seen is a different name being prioritized as default.

I agree, I do not like the use of “immigrant” in the names of invasive insects, “imported” is used with fire ants and has the same meaning without comparing the insects to people, but we also must consider the issue of confusion removing widely used names.

If there is no source for these names flag them for deletion

This is correct, regional names show up as the default for that region only, but if there is no other name to prioritize in other regions, then the regional name still shows up globally, changing this could be a feature request.

Removing the name that is widely used in one area to prevent it from showing up globally is not a good solution, since that will make it hard for people in the area where the name is used to find the organism on iNat

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The way the switch to “spongy moth” was handled on iNat is fine, in my view, and a good precedent to follow. The old name is still there, but it’s struck through, making it clear it’s no longer preferred, and the new, non-offensive name is the default.