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Note that this is not a policy or guideline; it is my opinion (based on actual policies and guidelines) coupled with an appraisal of the consensus in recent discussions. This page is here to provide for easy reference to an issue that is relevant on hundreds of pages.

Lately, I have been moving a number of articles on poorly-known mammals to page names using scientific names, instead of vernacular names, in accordance with consensus at [1] and various requested move discussions. I directly move the article when possible and initiate a requested move when not. This page provides an overview of arguments why scientific names should be preferred in such cases and of prior discussions.

"Vernacular names", as used here, are generally composed of English words (instead of the Greco-Latin-Latinized mishmash that scientific names are made of) and not proposed as formal scientific names (which are regulated by the Code). The term "common name" is also in use for such names, but it is confusing as "common names" may not be in common use, as the word is used at the Wikipedia guideline use common names.

Arguments and observations[edit]

  • The species I am moving to their scientific names are obscure ones, which have received no or very little coverage outside of the specialized literature.
  • Vernacular names have been proposed for most (though not all) species, but those are neologisms that are generally short-lived and change from one publication to another; they have not entered common usage.
  • When (as in most cases I have encountered) several vernacular names have been proposed, there is usually no clear majority in reliable sources for either of these, making it difficult to choose which name to use.
  • There are many confusing aspects in the proposed vernacular names, including names used for more than one species.
  • Vernacular names as used in Wikipedia often add an additional layer of confusion, as many use variant spellings or names that can't be traced to any outside source. Most derive from the IUCN Red List, but that source is itself inconsistent and often gives multiple possible names.
  • Although these arguments apply to the species I've handled so far, every case is of course different, and I'm willing to have an article stay at a vernacular name if there is evidence that the vernacular name is well-established for the species.

Where do we draw the line?[edit]

There is somewhat of a continuum between cases where we should clearly use the vernacular name—as for lion—and where we clearly should not—as for, let's say, the Small-footed Bristly Mouse. It is sensible that we should use a vernacular name when it has truly entered common usage, so that it is a real common name, not just one proposed in a list and replicated a few times. But that is vague, and it would be good to have some quantitative things to look at.

I believe Google Books and Google Scholar results give a good indication for whether a vernacular name has entered common usage and should be used for the page name. Names like "Small-footed Bristly Mouse" appear not all or only a few times, while names like "lion" appear numerous times, perhaps more often than the scientific name.[1] I think a reasonable minimum for an acceptable vernacular name would be that it appears at least five times in Google Scholar and Google Books combined and gets at least 20% (one fifth) of the number of hits the scientific name gets.

Let's call that the "double fives test", just to have an easy way to refer to it. All vernacular names I've so far moved would (if I recall correctly) fail this test, and I explicitly decided not to move one that does pass (Marsh Rice Rat).[2] Still, this test should be no more than an indicator. I believe it probably behaves well as a measure of how commonly used a name really is, but it cannot, in itself, always provide a good decision of whether a name is in fact in common usage; that should be determined on a case-by-case basis. It's quite a low standard, really, and even vernacular names that pass it should not necessarily be used on Wikipedia. I'm interested in trying to develop tests that capture standards correctly when we have discussions on names that are close to the line.

The double fives test works best when, as in the rodents I am working on, the scientific literature is just about the only place where the animal is even mentioned. It's likely not a good idea to use it for an animal that has been in the news a lot (for example, Laonastes aenigmamus); in those cases, Google News may be helpful.

Requested moves[edit]


  1. ^ "Lion" in fact appears many times more often than "Panthera leo".
  2. ^ Though barely: marsh rice rat passes the double fives test (733 total hits; 36.3%; common name in Books 435, Scholar 298; scientific name in Books 708, in Scholar 1310). Numbers as of December 1, 2009.