The Issue with Common Names

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 2.26.18 PMI received a message today about the “real name” or “common name” for a black-tailed deer. We get questions about common names frequently enough that I thought it would be a good blog topic.

The issue with common names is that different regions call animals different names, usually they are not wrong but it is an AKA or “Also Known As”. A few great examples are black-tailed deer, which is a subspecies of “mule deer”. We are not at the point where we can identify subspecies, most of the time we have no idea. Another good example is “black-tailed hare”, you can not even find this name on Wikipedia. It is in fact a “black-tailed jackrabbit”.

1692371227Recently we had an account for New Zealand sign up and I had to enter a few new species into the database. What we call a cormorant in the US, they call shag. This makes it tricky to have an official name. In the US it is a cormorant, in New Zealand it is a shag, you can see the complication. What I ended up doing was if it was only local in New Zealand, Australia and the greater area, I called it a shag. If it was very wide spread I called it a cormorant. (image is a Stewart’s Shag from the IUCN Red List)

What we have had to do is use the most official common name out there. We use both the IUCN Red List and Wikipedia for cross reference. If you are ever unsure about a name, you can look it up on either of these sites, or email us.

At some point we will have the ability to add in “Also Known As”, but it will take time before we can get all those alternative names into the species profile.