Common name
A common name of a taxon
|thumb|270px|[[African elephants]] form a widely-accepted taxon, the [[genus]] LoxodontaA taxon is a group of organisms, which a taxonomist adjudges to be a unit. Usually a taxon is given a name and a rank, although neither is a requirement...

 or organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

 (also known as a vernacular name, colloquial
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier...

 name, trivial name
Trivial name
In chemistry, a trivial name is a common name or vernacular name; it is a non-systematic name or non-scientific name. That is, the name is not recognised according to the rules of any formal system of nomenclature...

, trivial epithet, country name, popular name
Popular may in various ways refer to:*an adjective referring to any people or population*Social status, the quality of being well-liked or well-known*Popularity, the quality of being well-liked...

, or farmer's name) is a name in general use within a community; it is often contrasted with the scientific name for the same organism. A common name is not always commonly used.

Sometimes common names are created by authorities on one particular subject, in an attempt to make it possible for members of the general public (including interested parties such as fishermen, farmers etc.) to refer to a species of organism without needing to be able to pronounce the Latinized scientific name. Creating common names can also be an attempt to standardize the use of common names which can sometimes vary a great deal between one part of a country and another as well as between one country and another where the same language is spoken.

Use as part of folk taxonomy

Some common names form part of a classification of objects. Folk taxonomy
Folk taxonomy
A folk taxonomy is a vernacular naming system, and can be contrasted with scientific taxonomy. Folk biological classification is the way peoples describe and organize their natural surroundings/the world around them, typically making generous use of form taxa like "shrubs", "bugs", "ducks",...

, which is a classification of objects using common names, has no formal rules. In contrast, scientific or biological nomenclature
Biological classification
Biological classification, or scientific classification in biology, is a method to group and categorize organisms by biological type, such as genus or species. Biological classification is part of scientific taxonomy....

 is a global system that uniquely denotes particular organisms. Biological nomenclature involves formal rules and periodic international meetings, of the ICBN and the ICZN
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature is an organization dedicated to "achieving stability and sense in the scientific naming of animals". Founded in 1895, it currently comprises 28 members from 20 countries, mainly practicing zoological taxonomists...


Common names and the binomial system

The form of scientific names for organisms that we know as binomial nomenclature
Binomial nomenclature
Binomial nomenclature is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms, although they can be based on words from other languages...

 is derived from the noun-adjective form of vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

 names used by prehistoric cultures. A collective name such as owl, was made more specific by the addition of an adjective such as screech. Linnaeus himself published a Flora
Flora is the plant life occurring in a particular region or time, generally the naturally occurring or indigenous—native plant life. The corresponding term for animals is fauna.-Etymology:...

 of his homeland Sweden, Flora Svecica
Flora Svecica
Flora Svecica was written by Swedish botanist, physician, zoologist and naturalist Carl Linnaeus ....

 (1745), and in this he recorded the Swedish common names, region by region, as well as the scientific names — and the Swedish common names were all binomials (e.g. plant no. 84 Råg-losta and plant no. 85 Ren-losta) — the vernacular binomial system thus preceded his scientific binomial system.

Linnaean authority William T. Stearn
William T. Stearn
William Thomas Stearn CBE was a British botanist known for his expertise on the history of botany and in the classical languages. His work is widely read, with his etymological dictionary of Latin names of garden plants likely the best-known of the works appearing under his own name...

There is a correspondence between many common names and systematic taxonomic names. Many laymen who have the experience and interest to name the creatures that they deal with, also have the powers of observation that equip them to recognise relevant differences and group organisms accordingly. Studies that compared the names applied to various plants by traditional Oriental herbalists with the classification of the same plants by modern botanists, also showed surprisingly close correspondence.

One example can be found in the book "The Whale", by Herman Melville. In Chapter 32, "Cetology", concerning the question of whether the whale is a fish or mammal, Melville wrote in about 1851:

Geographic range of use

The geographic range over which a particular common name is used varies; some common names have a very local application, while others are virtually universal within a particular language. Some such names even apply across ranges of languages; the word for cat, is easily recognizable in most Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

 and many Romance languages
Romance languages
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

. Vernacular names often restricted to one country. Colloquial names are often even more local in use.

Constraints and problems

Common names are used in the writings of both professional
A professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialised set of tasks and to complete them for a fee. The traditional professions were doctors, lawyers, clergymen, and commissioned military officers. Today, the term is applied to estate agents, surveyors , environmental scientists,...

s and laymen
A layperson or layman is a person who is not an expert in a given field of knowledge. The term originally meant a member of the laity, i.e. a non-clergymen, but over the centuries shifted in definition....

. Lay people sometimes object to the use of scientific names over common names, but the use of scientific names can be defended, as it is in these quotes from a book on marine fish::
  • Because, as already remarked, common names often have a very local distribution, we find that the same fish in a single area may have several common names.
  • Because of ignorance of relevant biological facts among the lay public, a single species of fish might have several extra common names, say because individuals differ according to maturity, gender, or their natural surroundings.
  • Formal taxonomic
    Biological classification
    Biological classification, or scientific classification in biology, is a method to group and categorize organisms by biological type, such as genus or species. Biological classification is part of scientific taxonomy....

     names imply biological relationships between similarly named creatures.
  • Because of incidental events, contact with other languages, or simple confusion, common names in a given region change with time.
  • In a book that lists over 1200 species of fishes more than half have no widely recognised common name; they either are too nondescript or too rarely seen to have earned any widely accepted common name.
  • Conversely, a single common name often applies to multiple species of fishes. The lay public might simply not recognise or care about subtle differences in appearance between effectively unrelated species with very different biologies.

Coining common names

The latinized names used in scientific binomial nomenclature can be difficult for laymen to learn, remember, and pronounce, therefore in such books as field guides, biologists have coined and published lists of coined common names. On occasion, the common names are simply an attempt to translate the Latinized name into English. This translating is sometimes done inaccurately, for example, gratiosus does not mean gracile.

Various bodies, and the authors of many technical and semi-technical books, do not simply adapt existing common names for various organisms; they try to coin (and put into common use) comprehensive, useful, authoritative, and standardised lists of new names. The purpose typically is:
  • to create names from scratch where no common names exist
  • to impose a particular choice of name where there is more than one common name
  • to improve existing common names
  • to replace them with names that conform more to the relatedness of the organisms

Other projects reflect attempts to reconcile differences between widely separated regions, traditions and languages. For example, members of the genus Burhinus
Burhinus is a genus of bird in the Burhinidae family. It contains the following species:* Bush Stone-Curlew * Double-striped Thick-knee * Peruvian Thick-knee...

 occur in Australia, Southern Africa, Eurasia, and South America. A recent trend in field manuals and bird lists is to use the name "thick-knee
The Stone-curlews, also known as Dikkops or Thick-knees are a group of largely tropical birds in the family Burhinidae. Despite the group being classified as waders, most species have a preference for arid or semi-arid habitats...

" for members of the genus. The majority of the species occur in non-English-speaking regions and have various common names, not always English. For example "Dikkop" is the centuries-old South African vernacular name for the two local species: Burhinus capensis (Cape dikkop or “gewone dikkop”, not to mention the presumably much older Zulu “umBangaqhwa”) and Burhinus vermiculatus (water dikkop).. The thick joints in question are not the birds’ knees, but the intertarsal joints
Intertarsal articulations
Intertarsal articulations are the joints of the tarsus. The specific intertarsal articulations are:* Talocalcaneal articulation* Talocalcaneonavicular articulation* Calcaneocuboid articulation* Cuneonavicular articulation* Cuboideonavicular articulation...

 — in lay terms the ankles. Furthermore, not all species
Peruvian Thick-knee
The Peruvian Thick-knee is a species of bird in the Burhinidae family.It is found in Chile, Ecuador, and Peru....

 in the genus have “thick knees”, so the thickness of the "knees" of some species is not of clear biological significance. The family Burhinidae has members that have various common names even in English, including “Stone curlew
Stone Curlew
The Stone Curlew, Eurasian Thick-knee, or Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus is a northern species of the Burhinidae bird family....

s”, so the choice of “thick-knees” is not easy to defend.

Lists of general interest

Plants and animals

Collective nouns

For collective nouns for various subjects see list of collective nouns (e.g. a flock of sheep, pack of wolves)

Official lists

Some organizations have created official lists of common names, or guidelines for creating common names, hoping to standardize the use of common names.

For example, the Australian Fish Names List or AFNS was compiled through a process involving work by taxonomic and seafood industry experts, drafted using the CAAB (Codes for Australian Aquatic Biota) taxon management system of the CSIRO, and including input through public and industry consultations by the Australian Fish Names Committee (AFNC). The AFNS has been an official Australian Standard since July 2007 and has existed in draft form (The Australian Fish Names List) since 2001.
Seafood Services Australia (SSA) serve as the Secretariat for the AFNC. SSA is an accredited Standards Australia
Standards Australia
Standards Australia was established in 1922 and is recognised through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian government as the peak non-government standards development body in Australia. It is a company limited by guarantee, with 72 members representing groups interested in the...

 (Australia’s peak non-government standards development organisation) Standards Development

A set of guidelines for the creation of English names for birds was published in The Auk
The Auk
The Auk is a quarterly journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists' Union, having been continuously published by that body since 1884. The journal contains articles relating scientific studies of the anatomy, behavior, and distribution of birds. The journal is named for the...

in 1978.

External links

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