Common names

Kenelm Philip fnkwp at
Wed Jun 2 14:17:00 EDT 1999

	This subject, like collecting, keeps coming back. As far as I can
see, the situation is roughly as follows:

1.	People in non English-speaking countries prefer using scientific
names. People from the UK and some from North America complain when they
see these.

2. 	People in the UK prefer using common names, which have taken over
as the standard names for leps. People from non English-speaking countries
complain when they see these. North Americans who use common names find
that UK common names are not very useful for them.

3.	People in North America are mixed. Some use scientific names, others
prefer common names. The NABA is, for its own agenda, pushing for the wide-
spread use of common names. Taxonomists, and other scientists, as well as
some so-called 'serious amateurs', tend to use scientific names.

	The argument that common names are, in some cases, more stable than
scientific names is beside the point. The real point is: to whom are you
talking when you post a note to Leps-L? In my case, with my interest in
arctic/subarctic butterflies around the pole, the area of interest covers
(in addition to North America) Fennoscandia and Russia. Our NA common names
mean nothing in those countries, and theirs mean nothing to me--so I have
to use scientific names.

	If your postings are aimed solely at your own country, use common
names to your heart's content (but realize that foreigners won't have the
faintest idea what you're talking about). If your postings are of general
interest, or if you are inclined to be polite to those not speaking your
language, use scientific names. If you want to keep both camps happy, use
_both_ scientific and common names--but realize that English-speaking
people not from your own country may still feel slighted that you did not
use _their_ common names. And remember that the _only_ international
standard is, and will remain, scientific names--however unstable they may
be. For my own part, when I see a list of NA common names I get my copy of
the NABA list out and translate back into scientific names, which is how I
learned butterflies many years ago...

	As for pronounciation of Latin or Greek names, let the sounds fall
where they may. Europeans use different criteria from North Americans for
Latin pronounciation--but I have seldom heard a scientific name pronounced
so that I could not figure out which species was being referred to, as long
as the speaker got the letters in the right order. There are some people
who come out with 'Onesis' for _Oeneis_, which _is_ a bit confusing...  :-)

							Ken Philip
fnkwp at

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