A common name (also known as a vernacular name, colloquial name, trivial name, trivial epithet, country name, or farmer's name) is a name that is in general use within a community (of whatever size or language).
Many of the conventions and traditions described in this article are based on the English language, and thus will not apply to other languages.
In biology a common name may be applied to a single species of organism as a proper noun (e.g. red admiral) or used in a more general sense as a common noun (e.g. butterfly). This is essentially the same as the way we communicate about many objects in everyday speech.
Common names have general appeal because they are easy to remember and pronounce; they also often convey valuable cultural and historical associations, including such things as the language of flowers.
New names of animals and plants are constantly being added to the common name repertoire, but at the same time the older traditional names are falling into disuse. Nevertheless it is common names, not scientific names, that are the major currency of communication about organisms, so it seems likely that they will always be with us.
|honey bee||Apis mellifera|
|cone flower||Echinacea sp.|
|daisy, lawn daisy, English daisy||Bellis perennis|
|white oak, Quebec oak||Quercus alba|
|acetic acid||ethanoic acid|
Folk taxonomy is generally associated with the way rural or indigenous peoples use language to make sense of and organise the objects around them. Ethnographic studies of the naming and classification of animals and plants in non-Western societies have revealed some general principles that indicate pre-scientific man’s conceptual and linguistic method of organising the biological world in a hierarchical way
The levels are — moving from the most to least inclusive:
In almost all cultures objects are named using one or two words. When made up of two words (a binomial) the name usually consists of a noun (like salt, dog or star) and an adjectival second word that helps describe the first, and therefore makes the name, as a whole, more "specific", for example, lap dog, sea salt, or film star. The meaning of the noun used for a common name may have been lost or forgotten (whelk, elm, lion, shark, pig) but when the common name is extended to two or more words much more is conveyed about the organism's use, appearance or other special properties(sting ray, poison apple, giant stinking hogweed, hammerhead shark). These noun-adjective binomials are just like our own names with a family or surname like Simpson and another adjectival christian- or forename name that specifies which Simpson, say Homer Simpson. It seems reasonable to assume that the form of scientific names we call binomial nomenclature is derived from this simple and practical way of constructing common names - but with the use of Latin as a universal language.
The name will often indicate something about the organism's appearance, behaviour, origin or use (Dutchman's pipe, barking owl, sea slug, soap tree). Of course new names are constantly being added as plants and animals arrive in different regions or appear for the first time. Here could be included the Asian vegetables becoming increasingly popular in the West with their anglicised Asian names (pak choi and bok choi), and novel organisms like bird flu and mad cow disease.
One well-known scientific convention is the use of italicised Roman script for a species name, with the first letter of the genus name being always capitalized, so the scientific name of the common Atlantic limpet is Patella vulgata.
For common names there are no such international codes and no agreed ground-rules. There is therefore a range of naming conventions or house rules; books, periodicals, newspapers and other media develop their own policies about the way common names should be presented.
The Wikipedia Style Manual states, "Common (vernacular) names of flora and fauna should be written in lower case—for example, oak or lion" although allowance is made for a few exceptions. See head of this article for links to Wikipedia policy and procedure.
A common name which has a clear usage in a particular location may become ambiguous when used more widely. Names like "sardine" or "deer" are applied to dozens of different species in English-speaking countries worldwide. Though these two names are perfectly adequate in their original domains of use(fishing and hunting) and in localities where only one appropriate species is known to occur.
Common names do not always accurately denote this sort of ranking. In botany, the common name "oak" is equivalent to the rank of genus Quercus and "red oak" the rank of species, Quercus rubra. In Australia, depending on the context, the plant common name bacon-and-eggs can refer to plants at the scientific level of family, genus or species.
Many scientifically different organisms can have the same common name; one particular species (or other classification category) will generally have a different common name in each language and sometimes many names in the same language. Sometimes a species is known by one name when it is a juvenile, and another name when it is an adult, see for example hard clam.
Together these factors might suggest that common names are generally unreliable or even misleading which is of course sometimes true. On the other hand scientific names do not always possess lasting stability; the Latin genus and species names for individual organisms are often revised in light of on-going research on the nomenclature and taxonomy of a species or genus. Thus occasionally common names are more constant over time than their scientific counterparts. The use of Māori names for some plants in New Zealand has remained the same while their scientific names have undergone several changes.
Some common names, like "periwinkle", apply to both a mollusk and a plant. This use of the same name for very different groups of organisms does also occur with scientific names: the genus Morus is used for the mulberry in botany and the gannet in zoology.
For historical reasons, some common names and 'equivalent' scientific names refer to unrelated species. For example cranesbill is the common name for the genus Geranium, while the common name geranium is often used for species of the South African genus Pelargonium. Again, the gardeners' nasturtium is Tropaeolum but the scientific genus Nasturtium is better known as cress.
A common name which is quite useful in local context can be ambiguous if used more widely. Names like sardine or deer are applied to dozens of different species in English-speaking countries worldwide. Though these two names are perfectly adequate in their original domains of use: (fishing and hunting) in localities where only one such species is known to exist, or is likely to be caught.
Some common names such as "periwinkle" apply both to a mollusk and to a plant.
Various strategies may be used to make common names more accessible.
Attempts to standardise common names (insects in New Zealand; freshwater fishes in North America) have met with mixed success, but common names lose some of their unique merits when defined.
In Australia, common names for seafood species have been standardised as AS SSA 5300 Australian Fish Names Standard(AFNS) which contains Standard Fish Names for over 4000 species. Previously fish in Australia were sold under a large number of common names. The confusing variety of Australian common names resulted from: the numerous species Australia has on offer (over 4,000 species of finfish and many more crustaceans and molluscs); local and regional variations in the names being used; some species being known by more than one name; and the same name being used for more than one species.
The AFNS was compiled through an exhaustive process involving work by taxonomic and seafood industry experts (including CSIRO) and including input through public and industry consultations by the Australian Fish Names Committe (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 (Australia’s peak non-government standards development organisation) Standards Development Organisation
A set of guidelines for the creation of English names for birds was published in The Auk in 1978.
End of URLs as we know 'em?; IETF spec could ease use of public, private Web sites.(Internet Engineering Task Force, Common Name standard)(Internet/ Web/ Online Service Information)
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