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RE: common versus scientific names

Not to beat a dead horse over much (and apologies for the long post), but
this whole flame war over what name(s) to use is to me rather tragically
silly. As a nurseryman dedicated to native plants, I know both the value of
using recognizable names (which inherently means BOTH common and scientific)
and the ridiculous lengths the general public will go to to keep their own
cherished common names for common plants.

There is such a thing as generally recognized common names, and even in some
cases standardized common names. For birds, there is actually a standardized
list of both common and scientific names for the United States and Canada (I
am not certain, but I believe it also in English at least includes most of
the birds in the rest of the world as well.) Unfortunately, I am not aware
of any other standardized lists for any other group of organisms. But, as a
friend recently pointed out to me after I had sent her an article using my
own favorite common names, it is customary in written publications to use a
standard reference to avoid confusion and so that others can refer to it for
more information. And of course to list that as the standard reference in
your publications. This is the professional way to write, and I suggest is
worth at least paying attention to in national lists such as this one. This
is not so much a case of the world against the regional differences (after
all, you are free to use among your friends whatever term suits you), as it
is a courtesy to those not in your region.

This list is not a publication in the traditional sense (magazine, book,
newspaper, etc.) but does share many of the same problems as any national
publication does. I do not want to suggest that everyone who mentions a
common name needs to state their reference for that name, but it does seem
to me worth deciding as a list on one or two references for plants and fish
so that the common names are more or less standardized for the list as a
whole. If these are accessible online, so much the better (the Tropica list
for plants comes to mind.)

And to put my two cents worth in, I do believe that listing several common
names does a disservice for a number of reasons, all of which have already
been stated. I have written quite a few articles for local publications, and
have been told both by editors and people reading my articles that it is
clearer and easier to read when I stick to ONE common name, even if it is
one they are not familiar with. I personally wish that people would get over
their fear of Latin and use the scientific name (assuming it is known), but
barring that it seems to me best to pick a standard reference or two and use
the common names listed in them. Dwight, if you feel so strongly about using
a particular name, by all means provide a reference that uses that name, or
create your own. The point is to make sure everyone knows what you are
talking about. Local LFSs have been selling SAEs as flying foxes, Siamese
flying fox, algae eating fox, algae eating shark, Siamese shark, and Siamese
algae eaters. Most of the time, if I go in and ask for an SAE they know what
I am talking about, but they still use half a dozen names, and in one store
had them in two separate tanks under two different names.

OTOH, I don't know why anyone is surprised over the use of a new common name
for a commercial purpose, either. Nurseries routinely change common names to
better sell their plants. At least Dwight was smart enough to use an
effective descriptive name, and since he is unsure of the scientific
identity of the plant has every reason to put whatever common name he wants
to on the plant. The ones that make me shudder are these stupid common names
that make something appear to be what it is not. "Australian Pine" is a
perfect example, since it is neither a pine nor even a conifer, but a
flowering tree. Its other common name, "She Oak" is just as bad. Common
names like these can be tremendously misleading.

Brett Johnson
Green Man Gardens
bnbjohns at home_com