Common Names please?

Doug Yanega dyanega at
Mon Oct 5 11:18:02 EDT 1998

Dave Albaugh wrote:

>I have to disagree with Doug concerning common names. I think there is a
>big difference when you compare the names of flowers and lepidoptera.
>Flowers have pretty much always been called by the scientific name so it
>is natural that if someone mentions"aster" or "coreopsis" most of us
>know what type of flower it is and probably don't realize it is also
>part of the scientific nomenclature.

Well, then, we *do* agree! That was exactly my point - gardeners are
accustomed to using the scientific names, many lepidopterists are not.
Obviously no one ever felt there was a need to make up common names for
every plant. It turns out, as well, that some of those plants I listed *do*
have "common names", it's just that people don't use them as often as the
latin names (and, of course, there are plants like roses, lilies, tulips,
and more where the difference between the common and latin names is very
small). If people were in the *habit* of always using the latin names, then
they wouldn't bat an eyelash if someone started talking about Poanes or
Atrytonopsis or Pyrgus or Amblyscirtes...
        Heck, what if I start talking about *my* local leps? Does anyone
have any trouble with the names "Morpho", "Prepona", or "Agrias", for
example? These are perfect examples where the names in common use by
leppers ARE the scientific names, so this indicates that we're looking at a
double standard here - "It's okay to use SOME scientific names, for exotic
species, but not for *local* species". I maintain that if it's okay for
Morphos, it's JUST as okay for Speyerias or Bolorias or whatever (and, of
course, for a Brazilian, THOSE are exotic species, while Morphos have a
common name, the "arco-iris", or "rainbow"). At any rate, I'll bet this
discussion would have 'em rolling on the floor laughing (or gaping in
disbelief) over in the gardening newsgroups.

>Is it really that difficult to post both common and
>scientific names when posting about a specific species?

I wasn't suggesting that people NOT include the common names, and I don't
think anyone else here has ever suggested so - besides, my comment was not
really intended to pertain to what goes on here on the list (I think Ken
Philip summed that up nicely - it's an international readership, we SHOULD
always use scientific names, with common names optional). My comment
pertained more to the idea that we cannot communicate with the public if we
don't make up common names for everything. That idea is clearly fraudulent
at its foundation - if I talk to someone who has NO IDEA about gardening,
but wants to start, I can still use the words "gaillardia" and
"rhododendron" and not expect them to abandon their interest in gardening
simply because the names are too hard to learn, or not colorful or
descriptive. I'm a professional now, but started as a kid - at the same
time I was collecting butterflies, I was collecting seeds, and I learned
the names of plants from gardening catalogues. I learned the names of both
groups with equal facility, too, even though many plant names were latin
names - no problem in communication there, anyway.
        This related "you can't expect butterflies to be popular if they
don't have common names, because scientific names are elitist" argument
*can't* be true - there are millions of gardeners (seems plenty popular,
no?), and they are NOT a vast army of elitists simply because they use
scientific names. It is ALL a matter of habit, nothing else. Like I said,
it's our choice whether we want to break the habit - and right now, if
we've got field guide publishers insisting on the creation of common names,
etc., it seems like the trend is going to be in the *opposite* direction.
[As an aside, I have published a field guide, and mercifully had a
scientific publisher, so I *didn't* have to fabricate 300 bogus common
names - but I still included them for species that *had* them.] Does no one
here see the irony in (for example) letting committees design and approve
"common names" and then turning around and claiming scientific names are
elitist? What makes a name elitist is obscurity, and scientific names
should not be *made* more obscure intentionally, and replaced by *more*
obscure "common names". What makes a "common name" common is people USING
the name. If we all USE scientific names, then they will *become* the
common names, just like all those garden plants, and everyone will benefit.
      Maybe our big difference in opinion is that I feel it's possible and
desirable for us to promote this habit. Then again, I thought the plan to
adopt the metric system in the US was a good idea, too, and look how far
that got ("Yeah, gimme that 2-liter bottle of Coke"). ;-)


Doug Yanega    Depto. de Biologia Geral, Instituto de Ciencias Biologicas,
Univ. Fed. de Minas Gerais, Cx.P. 486, 30.161-970 Belo Horizonte, MG   BRAZIL
phone: 31-499-2579, fax: 31-499-2567  (from U.S., prefix 011-55)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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