Common names

Matthew Smith MatSmith1 at
Wed Jun 2 15:49:52 EDT 1999

Message text written by INTERNET:gochfeld at EOHSI.RUTGERS.EDU
>But it is a flaw to assume that the scientific names are "better".  For 
example, looking at papers published a hundred years ago in northeastern 
U.S. I found that more of the common than scientific names had remained 
unchanged.  Thus at any point in time a scientific name may be the same 
in North America and Europe, but over time the meddling in systematics 
is reflected in dramatic changes in our understanding of species 
concepts, generic relationships, etc. Particularly at the generic level 
where there don't seem to be many "rules", it can be a free-for all.  
Have our European colleagues kept up to date on our realignment of 
American hairstreaks at the generic level????

So it may be easier to learn two common names than to keep track of the 
evolving scientific names. ----if "easier" is a virtue.

M. Gochfeld<

Common names may be easier to learn initially, and "proper" common names
(ie the ones that are really used by people as opposed "made up for
publication") do seem to be more stable, Red Admirals (here) have been Red
Admirals for a long time.  However, common names are not species specific
and may mean nothing to someone who does not know what YOU are talking

A recent example from the UK, English Nature (the Government Nature
Conservation Organisation) recently produced a large set of colourful
booklets covering England's Natural Areas( specific bits of countryside
such as the Chiltern Hills etc).  In these are lists of inverts of
conservation interest in each area.  Some have scientific names, some have
common names with no reference to the scientific name.  One booklet lists
the "Fringed Horned Mining Bee" as a particular species of interest.  I
like bees and have a lot of literature on the subject covering the UK
species, but I don't know which species the  "Fringed Horned Mining Bee"
refers to (I think it's Osmia pilicornis).

By all means stick to common names when talking to your friends who know
what you mean, but for publication (and dissemination on the WWW)
scientific names are a must.  Certainly your US Common Blue is not the same
as my UK Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).  As an interesting exercise, if
people would like to use "Common Blue" as an example and send me a note of
what species it refers to in their part of the world I will collate it and
post it out to the list .  Scientific names are not too hard to learn, and
its the only way I can understand some of the articles in the journals when
they discuss butterflies, at least I have some idea as to whether the thing
under discussion is blue or brown.



PS;  Have you noticed that with scientific names, once you get a bunch of
entomologists together to discuss things generic names vanish from the
conversation and just the specific epithets are used.

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