Common names

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Wed Jun 2 18:54:50 EDT 1999

Matt Smith has set me up for my real pet peeve----why common names 
should be capitalized (note that he capitalized them). Common names are 
proper nouns in that they denote a specific entity.  Style manuals 
written by non-scientists are useless references in this regard. Some 
style manuals are written by biomedical specialists---the same ones who 
refer to The Rat and The Mouse and who aren't sure whether salamanders 
are amphibians or reptiles or whether fish should be considered 

Is a little blue heron, a small version of the great blue heron or is it 
a distinct species.  Perhaps a lay person would have a clue if Little 
Blue Heron were capitalized. 

Why should Erynnis horatius be treated as Horace's duskywing while E. 
baptesiae is the wild indigo duskywing.  Horace probably never saw this 
species.  Any common adjective (brown, little, etc) could easily be 
confused as a modifier rather than part of a species name. 

 Ornithology journals capitalize avian species (but not plant 

But Lep journals don't even give their target species this modicum of 
respect.  I suspect that its just entomology's way of saying we really 
didn't want to give you common names anyway. 

It's probably not the most important issue.

Mike Gochfeld

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