Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Archive 87

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Common names of animals

Somewhere, we need to address the fact that common names of animals are not capitalized proper names. The entire article gray wolf is a hideous case in point. After reading that Article I was tempted to go pet my Cat and eat Dinner while watching Television. We're supposed to be using English, not German. This Germanization of nouns really needs to be nipped in the bud, and the problem is especially, terribly rampant in articles on animals. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 23:59, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

I strongly support this view. I suspect that the scientists can't even agree among themselves—am I correct? Tony 02:50, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
Professional writers are pretty united on this style point: the common name for an animal is never capitalised except for components taken from "proper" nouns like places and people. E.g. "Bengal tiger", not "Bengal Tiger". This is pretty universal in publishing, scientific or otherwise. I don't know why Wikipedia has taken a wishy washy stance on this. Bendž|Ť 11:55, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
Definitely the right thing to do to make sure capitals are not overused through the article. We should strengthen this in the MOS Owain.davies 12:02, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
But if you look at Wikipedia:Naming_conventions_(fauna), it supports use of capitalization. I think it looks out of place from what's conventionally done, e.g. "bald eagle" is not capitalized in the New York Times. Andrew73 12:44, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
The handful of people behind that particular page jumped on one particular system they were familiar with, that chosen by professional biologists who certainly aren;t know for their grammar and style rules. It wsa a bad decision from the beginning, completely against the whole world and common sense. A bunch of us tried to change it a while back but a couple of very opinionated people with no justification other than "that's how we serious people do it" fought it tooth in nail. It's about time a group of people just came in and changed it and forced them to deal twith reality. DreamGuy 21:43, 17 July 2007 (UTC)
Is a bald eagle a Bald Eagle, or a generic type of eagle, which has lost its feathers? Is a black redstart a Black Redstart, or a Redstart which is melanistic? Andy Mabbett 12:56, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
From the context, it's clear that "bald eagle" refers to Haliaeetus leucocephalus and not to an eagle that's gone bald. In the same way that it's clear that "red snapper" fish refers to Lutjanus campechanus and not snappers that are red. The readers and editors of the New York Times don't seem to take offense at the lack of capitalization for this bird (or should it be Bird) or for example the National Audubon Society [1]. I'm not an ornithologist, but I'm not sure why Wikipedia is adopting this unconventional capitalization scheme. Andrew73 13:28, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
Let's not be silly; a redstart that is melanistic would be a melanistic redstart, not a black redstart, and a golden or whatever eagle that had lost its feathers would be a featherless eagle. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 01:00, 27 July 2007 (UTC)
Your first error is assuming that it's "unconventional". Andy Mabbett 13:40, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
It may be conventional in certain narrowly-defined contexts (e.g. bird guides), but not conventional in more general venues. Andrew73 13:44, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
Andy, it is wildly unconventional in general, modern, formal English, which is what this and every other English-language modern encyclopedia are written in. WP:NOT a biology textbook. And your unspoken assertion that zoologists conventionally do this is not supported. While I have, as others have, sometimes seen this done in the scientific literature, it is by no means a majority practice even with biology. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 01:00, 27 July 2007 (UTC)

I was not aware of this idea that wikipedia allows common names to be capitalized. Can someone point out the basis for it, or a link to previous discussion. Nobody immediately above has pointed out any source or authority for this "unconventional" view; where is it conventional? Dicklyon 16:02, 14 July 2007 (UTC)

I agree, there needs to be a written policy against things like "Gray Wolf" and "Bald Eagle". They are jarring, and it is quite easy to tell from context whether "gray wolf" refers to a wolf that happens to be gray, or to Canis lupus. Strad 20:19, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
Yes but there is a written policy, and it says that both "Gray Wolf" and "gray wolf" ar acceptable, due to some unspecified unresolved hot debate. I just noticed there's a main article link there, so apparently there's a better place to have this discussion. I'll follow it. Dicklyon 20:40, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
See also Wikipedia:WikiProject_Birds which endorses "Bald Eagle." I wonder if this also reflects an American v. British English split, as the people supporting "Bald Eagle" tend to be British. Andrew73 21:23, 14 July 2007 (UTC)
We have three options, as I see it:
  • Common names of animals are spelt with an initial lower-case letter
  • Common names of animals are normally spelt with an initial lower-case letter [this would leave a little space for the cap fanatics, and would allow for rare cases where disambiguation is necessary]
  • Leave the wording as it is. Tony 02:07, 15 July 2007 (UTC)
  • First option, obviously. Common names of animals are not proper names, period (except inasmuch as they contain one, e.g. Texas blind salamander, etc.) This is a no-brainer, and Wikipedia does not exist to further the ungrammatical nonsense of a minority of people in a narrow field. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 01:00, 27 July 2007 (UTC)
None of the above, because that's all dealt with elsewhere. I edited the section to try to more clearly deflect people to where the policy is, taking out the bit about a hot debate and compromise, since this is not the page where those are relevant. Dicklyon 05:26, 15 July 2007 (UTC)
What, links to projects and submanuals? Can you be explicit, or at least provide an example? On such a basic issue, don't you think the main MOS should provide explicit guidance? Very happy to remove the fluff about hot debate etc. Makes us look like fractious fools. Tony 08:11, 15 July 2007 (UTC)
The section on "animals, plants, and other organism" has a main link to Wikipedia:Naming conventions (fauna). I don't care if you'd like to push for a reorganization. Dicklyon 02:04, 18 July 2007 (UTC)

I agree with Tony. Why do we need to debate this on a sub-guideline page? This is the main MoS, and this is a pretty big issue (or is that Big Issue?). — Brian (talk) 02:20, 18 July 2007 (UTC)

Well, looks like we're pretty united, should we go ahead and implement de-capitalisation in this MoS and let it trickle down to the wikiprojects? Bendž|Ť 09:02, 24 July 2007 (UTC)
No. We're not united; and such a change would need to be discussed with the projects concerned - some of whom will, rightly, oppose it in the strongest permissible way. Andy Mabbett | Talk to Andy Mabbett 10:30, 24 July 2007 (UTC)
Strongly oppose. Lepidoptera like Birds are traditionally capitalised. See Monarch butterfly. Let the WikiProjects decide amongst themselves. I agree with Sabine's Sunbird - the aggressive tone set by the first post is not going to lead to any consensus because assumptions are being made about Wikipedians involved previously such as Germans (by implication), professional biologists are not known for their grammar, etc. Change has to be by consensus and civilised debate. The MOS page already exists and I see no pressing reason for changing status quo other than an overwhelming urge to get everyone to fall in line and salute. As regards what looks good and what doesnt - it changes in various cultures, as an Indian I dont find any awkwardness in reading about Gray Wolf when it is referred to as a specific taxonomic creature. My point, let the issue lie. If people still feel strongly, let them take it up after a decent time has passed on WikiProject Tree of Life with adequate notice to all WikiProjects especially those who are required to change tack. AshLin 08:05, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Concur with Brian, Tony, Dicklyon, et al. WP:MOS should definitely be clear on this, and the grammar-ignoring renegades at the sub-guideline need to get with the same program as the rest of the darned world. WP:MOS trumps WP:MOS*; if the entrenched capitalizers want to push for their pet Germanization Of Simple Words thing, they have to convince WP:MOS, not just go write their own "guideline". If that were a valid approach, all hell would break loose. We'd pretty soon have a WP:MOSBRIT declaring that all American spellings should be changed to British, and a WP:MOSUSA saying the opposite, etc., etc. Every vocal minority would soon be promulgating its own conflicting style manual on whatever it was collectively obsessed with. No way. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 01:00, 27 July 2007 (UTC)
I think we need to make a decision here on the main WP:MOS, and then move that down to the specific fauna page. I have placed a note to this effect on the talk page of naming conventions (fauna), inviting any interested parties to come here and join the debate.
By my count, at this time there are 8 people in favour of moving to using only lower case letters, and only one against. Obviously, WP is not a democracy as such, but this shows clear preference for one style as it stands. I suggest we give it a week or two to allow any contributors from the sub page to come and join the debate here, and then make decision on this basis. Owain.davies 10:47, 4 August 2007 (UTC)
I have also left notes inviting input at WikiProject mammals (who after a fair amount of debate on their talk page, seem to predominantly favour and use lower case). Owain.davies 11:02, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

The logic given at WP:BIRD is fairly clear and logical. At the very least, there is good reason to use capitalization for bird articles because that is how ornithologists write their books. Other groups of biologists have found the logic appealing and have also begun capitalizing the official common names of other species. - UtherSRG (talk) 12:10, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

I have something to say....

  • Well, looks like we're pretty united, should we go ahead and implement de-capitalisation in this MoS and let it trickle down to the wikiprojects? User talk:Bendzh United as in we haven't talked to anyone one of the editors involved in these wikiprojects, so lets make some changes and hopefully they might not notice and or make a fuss?
  • By my count, at this time there are 8 people in favour of moving to using only lower case letters, and only one against. Obviously, WP is not a democracy as such, but this shows clear preference for one style as it stands. User:Owain.davies Had you elicited the thoughts of those that contribute to animal articles, and who might not keep MOS on their watchpages, yet might be interested in this subject? Or do we minority of people in a narrow field not really matter? After all, we only write articles, which aren't nearly as important as guidelines.

Thanks to UtherSRG to bringing this to the attention of WP:BIRD, otherwise the changes might have happened without being able to oppose them. Which I do, strongly. The rest of WP:BIRD would too, most likely. Sabine's Sunbird talk 12:25, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

As I understand it, the proposal above is that we move to lower case for names of species, on the basis that names of species are not proper nouns. The definition of a proper noun, as I understand it, is that it relates to something which exists in the singular, as opposed to non-proper nouns which are for classes of things. However, species are singular entities, are they not? So when we are talking about a species, we should use initial capitals, but when we are talking about a group of species, we should use lower case e.g. Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but hummingbirds. Try transposing to other fields of study if you're having difficulty with this e.g. the Ford Escort vs. cars, the King James Bible vs. bibles SP-KP 13:02, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

Before the entire of WP:BIRD descends here, we know there is a clear reasoning to the naming of bird species with an upper case first letter. However, there is a general disagreement on the use of this across all animal species. It's not specifically about birds, or technical notation, but making a usable encyclopaedia for everyone. Owain.davies 14:08, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

I concur most strongly with the anti-capitalisation folks. With all due respect to the bird folks, they just have this wrong, I think. Over on one of those pages, during a previous incarnation of this discussion, I quoted a search I did on Google that revealed literally dozens of bird articles that went against the WP:BIRD direction. (The response I received at that time was that those articles were not field guides and may not have been written by ornithologists but WP also is not a field guide nor is it destined to be read exclusively by ornithologists.) Additionally, no other encyclopedia (and I consulted six of them including Britannica online) uses the methods of WP:BIRD. None of the various external style manuals I consulted support the capitalisation of species names. Now, the liberal in me would want to say that the bird folks should have a right to do as they please but I also find the argument in favour of consistency across faunal divisions to be persuasive. Some of the contributors, above, have said that projects other than WP:BIRD have opted for capitalisation. Well, I'd like someone to compile a list of which ones do and which do not. I know there are a vocal group of people in WP:MAMMALS who are attempting to enforce capitalisation but there is no consensus to do that. WP:FISH has officially come out against caps. Now, someone is sure to trot out at least a dozen times how we need to be able to tell the difference between a Grey Jay and a jay that happens to be grey. What strikes me as interesting is that no other publication in the popular press seems to have this trouble. Readers of the London Times and of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the grade 9 science students using my son's textbook -- all of these appear to have some sort of superhuman ability to discern the difference between a Grey Jay and a grey jay without being hit over the head with initial capitals. I agree that this discussion needs to be settled once and for all. If we're voting, I vote strongly that WP:MOS come out in favour of sentence (lower) case. The simple fact that we're having this discussion over and over and over again proves, to me, that the caps thing makes no sense because the pro-caps people need to convince every new cohort of editors who come along that initial caps is correct. If initial caps makes so much sense, wouldn't new (or even not-so-new) editors simply use it without having to be "corrected" and convinced year after year after year? As a professional biologist (but not an ornithologist) and as a published writer, I've read thousands of papers and articles and I've also written for the primary, secondary and tertiary literature and I can say that nowhere, other than here, have I encountered this discussion. I'd really like to know if anyone here, other than a birder, came to the project with an initial caps preconception and did not need to be swayed into the initial caps camp? Finally, in a somewhat tangential vein, I think it's also important to note that reading comprehension studies have shown that capitals used in unusual places slow the reading process and damage reading comprehension. "The Dog is the natural antagonist of the Cat. Dogs and Cats seldom sleep together except when a Horse, a Grey Jay or a Blue Shark is nearby." Let me ask you, seriously, if you re-write those sentences without the initial caps, what meaning is lost? Why are we adopting what is clearly a stilted writing style that damages reading comprehension if there is no value contributed by our style. Style is meant to be unobtrusive. The simple fact that people come here again and again and again to argue this point suggests to me that the initial caps style is anything but unobtrusive to most readers... — Dave (Talk | contribs) 16:04, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

Another birder and author of bird articles here. My impression of the conventional usage (I think I'm the person whose response Dave mentions above) is that journalistic writing and literary writing don't capitalize official common names; ornithology, field guides, and serious birding writing capitalize. (By serious birding I mean not "You might get Carolina chickadees at your feeder" but "Carolina Chickadees have gray edges on their secondaries".) The current policy at WP:BIRD follows this: capitalize in bird articles but don't expect articles on other topics to do so.
Dave, you have not encountered this discussion elsewhere, but I think that in ornithology there's nothing to discuss; just about everybody capitalizes. I once sent a letter to Birding magazine arguing that there's no grammatical reason to capitalize species names (sorry, SP-KP) and we do it only for clarity, but I don't recall much disagreement on capitalization itself. If my own searches are any guide, finding dozens of ornithology articles that don't capitalize would have required looking through hundreds or thousands that do. See for example the SORA archive, which is American. (I know of no difference between American and British usage here; both capitalize.)
You don't see the advantage in clarity, but I've been brought up short by the ambiguity of such phrases as "American goldfinches" and "desert larks". Of course I figure out quickly which possibility was meant without using my, ahem, superhuman powers, but I see no reason to "throw" the reader even for that moment. I imagine you agree that giving readers pause is undesirable even if you disagree that uncapitalized common names will do it often.
You suggest that the number of people who question this convention shows that new editors are constantly encountering it for the first time and disliking it. It shows up maybe once every two or three months at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Birds, I'd say. If we didn't capitalize, I can't tell you how many people would say, "Why don't you capitalize Helmeted Hornbill? That's how it is in all my books." But I'll bet it would be at least comparable to the number who question the present convention. In light of this and the previous paragraph, I'd say capitals not used in expected places also damage comprehension, so either way will be obtrusive and annoying to some readers.
I see no particular reason for a fauna-wide standard. I recognize the problem with "Stoat", "Donkey", "Lion", and a few others, but the mammal people can decide how to deal with that (keeping in mind the problem with "black bears of various colors"). I'd like to add some facts, though, that Neale Monks brought up in a recent discussion: "I took a look through some journals. Some, like Journal of Zoology, explicitly forbid capitals of common names completely. Others, like Copeia, insist on them where *recognised* common names exist. The split seems (at my first pass) to be between the US and everyone else, with the US journals favouring capitalised common names. Interestingly, and for no reason I can explain, the leading tropical fish magazine in the US forbids capital letters for common names while the leading magazine in the UK prefers them! So maybe it isn't so simple." (That's here.)
Your best point, in my opinion, is that other encyclopedias don't capitalize. But I think Wikipedia articles on birds have a lot in common with what you find in field guides and monographs (indeed, some may be too technical), so I think the style should be the same for the same reason. —JerryFriedman 00:29, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
  • First off I wish to apologise since I guess my earlier post was rude. I was really sick last night when I typed it, but that is no excuse. I was also really angry - there seemed to be a lot of barbs intented for tree of life participants, allusions to renegade grammar-ignoring renegades, entrenched capitalizers, a couple of very opinionated people with no justification (!) other than "that's how we serious people do it". But I shouldn't have bitten. Anyway.
To address some points - the use of caps for common names of species is not yet universal. No one is claiming it is. But it is strongly moving that way. Most of the world's ornithological scoieties do this (The AOU, BOU, etc) and a good chunk of the avian biology journals and handbooks (like Hanzab of Birds of North America) as well as BirdLife International. When WP:BIRD started we used Handbook of the Birds of the World as the taxonomy and source of standardised common names. HBW is recognised as one of the largest ornithological literature projects of the last 50 years. Since then we have moved a bit from those roots but only with good reason, and mostly in the region of taxonomic advances and to pander to some regional variation (some New Zealand bird articles use the New Zealand names, derived from Maori, rathar than the standard name (Kereru instead of New Zealand Pigeon for example.) There has been some suggestion that we move towards BIRDS OF THE WORLD Recommended English Names" By Frank Gill And Minturn Wright, published in 2006 [2]; which is the result of 16 years of work undertaken for the International Ornithological Congress to create standardised common names. This makes it pretty much the offical bird name standard (it is being adoped as such. On the subject of capitalisation they say... An important rule adopted at the outset was that the words of an official birds name begin with capital letters. While this is contrary to the general rules of spelling for mammals, birds, insects, fish, and other life forms (i.e., use lowercase letters), the committee believed the initial capital to be preferable for the name of a bird species in an ornithological context, for two reasons.
    • It has been the customary spelling in bird books for some years;
    • Because it distinguishes a taxonomic species from a general description of a bird. Several species of sparrows could be described as "white-throated sparrows," but a "White-throated Sparrow" is a particular taxonomic species.
From my perspective, the strongest argument for capitalizing the English names of birds is that we now have a single, unique name (see below) for each of the biological entities that we call bird species. These names must be regarded as proper nouns (thus receive capitals in all English publications), rather than as common nouns (vernacular names). **World bird name rules
The article goes on to offer further justification for the move. A parallel that might be worth considering is the capitalisation of family names; (Rallidae, Hydrobatidae etc), orders (Procellariformes) etc. Sabine's Sunbird talk 02:50, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Wikipedia is not a democracy - how true. I find it bizarre that a handful of people wish to overturn the agreed convention for capitalising bird species. The list of more than 70 contributors to the bird project, who presumably all accept the agreed convention, greatly outnumbers those who want to lower-case everything in sight. So does that make the "vote" 70 against 8 for capitalising? As a long term contributor, I've lost count of how many times this topic arises, usually by people who don't actually write animal articles. Jimfbleak 06:39, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps the way forward here is to stick to a (relatively) rigid lower case rule for all animals with the exception of birds in specialist ornithological articles. This would fulfil the criteria of both arguments. For instance, to rehash a much used example, in a general article, it would be "the national park contains many bald eagles", however in the article for the creature in question "The Bald Eagle lives in many national parks".
Mammalia, Reptilia etc. would all be run as lower case - "the lion primarily eats zebra and wildebeest". The use of proper names in the species name would have a capital so "the Bengal tiger is primarily found in the jungle"
In the limited number of cases where there may be doubt in the readers mind, the use of italics may prove a more fruitful and less contentious stylistic method (and some books do use this). For instance "the black bear eats mostly berries" could be used to distinguish that you are talking about the species rather than the much cited 'bear who is black'
Any comments on this? It seems to follow the general feeling i have from this thread. Owain.davies 08:13, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
OK, it's pretty clear to me that the WP:BIRDers aren't going to move from caps and, as I've said elsewhere, even though, personally, I think it's wrong, especially given that no other encyclopedia I could find does it, I really don't have a fundamental objection to the members of a project deciding how they want to do things. What truly disturbs me is when people use the consensus that appears to have been achieved at WP:BIRD in a viral way, i.e. to try to enforce caps in other articles and in other projects. I can't begin to tell you the number of times I've seen someone change an article about bears, say, to all caps and then, when questioned as to why they've done this, the editor quotes WP:BIRD. Comments such as these are typical: "WP:BIRD has set the precedent." or "The logic at WP:BIRD is persuasive." or "I edit primarily bird articles and that's the way we do it." I agree that if the MOS could be worded to indicate that caps are deemed appropriate in the bird species entries and all others use the normal, sentence case, I'd have no difficulty with that, especially if it's worded so as to obviate the viral application of the WP:BIRD decision. I think it's important to note, however, that consensus is an organic thing. I'd caution people against using the apparent consensus that was reached at some point in the past to stifle legitimate discussion. "We agreed to do it that way (at some point in the past.)" is, in my estimation, not an appropriate response to a person's query as to "why" we do it this way. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 13:44, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
  • To add my twopence worth: I'm strongly on the lower-case side here. Let's leave typwriter-based highlighting behind and make our text smooth to read. It's irritating to see the caps again and again through an article on animals. The grey hawke—well, just reword if it's ambiguous with a species of that name. Tony 00:51, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Owain, I agree with you.
Dave, on July 20 I changed WP:BIRD to say that the capitalization convention doesn't necessarily apply to other fauna articles. (This was in response to a request from Neale Monks, the discussion of which included the information I quoted above.) Nobody has changed it back. I hope this helps with the problem you mentioned. By the way, your three "typical comments" strike me as quite different: "set the precedent" is irrelevant, "the logic is persuasive" is an attempt to argue the question on its own merits, and "I edit primarily bird articles" means the person needs to be aware of the different standards for the different project.
Speaking of that, in addition to the unprovoked personal insults in this thread mentioned by Sabine's Sunbird, I noticed two Red Herrings. Typewriters have nothing to do with it—to judge by A Exhiliration of Wings: The Literature of Birdwatching, edited by Jen Hill, some writers (a minority) were capitalizing bird names before typewriters were commercially available. And German has nothing to do with it—Bird Writers show no Tendency to capitalize other Nouns. —JerryFriedman 15:07, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Is that what was meant by Germafication? I thought it was a reference to the tendency of some birding lists to eliminate spaces between words, to have Bluebreasted Larks and Greenwinged Buntings. I remember when they introduced it in South African offical lists; talk about howls of derisive protest. But I wasn't sure why it would be mentioned here, it isn't like we use such a system here (thank God). As for Owain.davies compromise, well, it's pretty much what happens anyway, we don't inisist of caps on articles about poetry cause it would look daft out of context. Perhaps some flexibility in scientific articles not specifically birdy though.... And we really need to get more people from WP:MAMMAL here since this is going to affect them the most - the fishes are already uncaped but the mammals universally are and this would reverese thousands of articles. Sabine's Sunbird talk 20:06, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Ummm, no. The mammals are not universally capped. Far from it. It's true that there are a few editors who have begun systematically going through the mammal articles in an effort to cap them all but that's not the same thing as saying that they are universally capped. When I asked one of them why he was doing it, he made appeal to WP:BIRD. After some discussion, it turned out that it was solely his personal preference and he could cite not one single, solitary document that supported those changes. I have asked more than one editor on more than one occasion to point me to something, anything, that supports capping those mammal articles and, other than reference to WP:BIRD, not a single guideline or policy or directive has been provided. In addition, some of those editors say that there is "emerging consensus" or something similar, to do it. I've been up and down most of the (recent) discussions about capping mammal articles, however, and the best I could say is that there is no consensus one way or the other (which, BTW, is precisely what the MOS currently says.) See, this is what I was referring to in my previous post. Those who are busily capping articles are using WP:BIRD as a justification. The wording in WP:BIRD that the capping provision "does not necessarily apply to" other faunal articles, although a welcome change is, in my view, not worded strongly enough and I also think that the MOS should tackle this more aggressively than it does. Essentially, the MOS says that there is no consensus and that projects can decide. Which is fair enough. But, surely, projects where consensus has not been reached or where the proposal for all caps has failed to be supported again and again, as in WP:MAMMAL, should default to something. Right now, the trouble is there's no default so we end up with reversions ad infinitum and endless discussions with the same people posting the same arguments over and over and over again. Of course, my biases are apparent. I maintain that WP is not meant to be a set of specialist articles to be read by zoologists. WP, along with being the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, should be the encyclopedia that anyone can read. Have you ever thought that there may be a reason why the New York Times and the Toronto Star and the Encyclopedia Britannica do not use initial-caps? I think it's because they're written in standard English (whatever that might be) as opposed to "specialist" English. I also don't think it's because they're not doing "serious" writing about birds or other creatures. I postulate that they write for their target audience and that that audience is the average citizen who reads, at best, at a grade 10 level. I also postulate that WP's target audience is the very same: the average reader who wants to know what a moose is and where does it live and how big does one get. Now, that's not to say that we should dumb down our articles. Just that they should be easily accessible to more than just specialists and keen amateurs. In my opinion, other encyclopedias and articles in the popular press should be the standards against which we measure our style, not zoological journals and not specialised technical guides and documents. If someone wants to change from that, it should be their responsibility to build consensus to do that as, it is suggested, has been done on WP:BIRD. Anyway, that's enough long-winded crap from me. I'm sure you're all tired of me by now... Cheers! — Dave (Talk | contribs) 21:21, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
Apart from the observation that WP is not Brittanica, I can assure you that we in TOL do not write specialist zooological literature, but we do try and write better quality general science writing. Do you know how often I see binomials written incorrectly even in such noted sources as the Times of London or the BBC? That they don't do something, or do something, is not of itself justification for us to do it or not do it alone. As for mammals, a quick random trawl through our mammals shows that most of our articles have caps - my point was that since we mostly do it we need further discussion with them (not that mammal articles elsewhere universally do). Believe me a lot of the hostility generated earlier was heavy handed the "we're going to change the rules and bring these rebels into line whether they like it or not" tone of the statements. People don't like what they see as unreasonable conformity being pushed upon their work. If the desiscion is made every single effort should be made to involve the mammal writing authors (and reptile and butterfly authors) lest you find yourself facing a great deal of hostility. Sabine's Sunbird talk 22:14, 5 August 2007 (UTC)

(As posted on the Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Mammals last April--links may no longer reflect the issues addressed in the commentary. While I realize this discussion concern the capitalization of common names, I personally believe articles should be moved from common names to scientific names. Some articles, such as bear or horse seem better left alone, but when there are dozens of species of "spiny rat" and the spiny rat article doesn't include mention of the ones outside the genera to which it refers, pages based on phylogenic groupings seem superior. Use common names for disambiguation articles where the use of the common names have caused the ambiguity. I'm willing to run around and change article locations, providing (and adding) redirects as I go. Notes have been added to where naming schemes have changed.)
Standardization of Species Listings

There are a multitude of ways in which genus trees are listed. Some place the scientific names first (makes searching and reading much easier), some place the vernacular names first (helps elementary kids with school projects read lists), some even flip a few here-and-there. Some seperate names with a dash, some simply place them side-by-side. There are lists with subsets of data, then others that list all species in a row without regard. This is something that should be discussed and decided upon, keeping in mind that this is an encylopedic site instead of a book, that Wikipedia is used by experts as well as laiety, and that there isn't an index in the back.

Here are some examples of different lists:

Vernacular names first, subsets.
Hare (Lepus)
Mustela <-- has since been changed, and looks much better, though a bit cluttered. >

Vernacular names first, no subsets.
Necromys <-- has since been changed places scientific names first, but in a really poor way >
Monodelphis(double linkage)

Scientific names first, subsets, no vernacular names.
Peromyscus <-- what I'd like to see, with added common names >

Scientific names first, no subsets (two versions).
Spermophilus <-- goofy, some common links, some scientific links >
Perognathus <--another example of what I'd like to see >
Myotis (vernacular names linked) <--what I hate seeing >

Etc., etc. With lesser-known mammals such as some of the obscure rodents, vernacular names don't make much sense--there are three names for a type of shrew in my state (SD) yet only one scientific name (obviously). As you can see, some of these are a little confusing.
Thanks. TeamZissou 20:09, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

TeamZissou 23:05, 5 August 2007 (UTC)

  • I completely agree with SMcCandlish and his argument. We should not be capitalizing common names. The only exception, in my opinion, should be when they contain geographical references: e.g. "European sparrow" would be correct. But, IMO, that should be obvious. --Jwinius 00:08, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Completely agree as well with SMcCandlish, for non-bird articles. As for the bird articles, I'd leave it to the WP:BIRD people. I am most familiar with cetaceans. I go along with the current convention to capitalize because I haven't wanted to spend energy arguing over it, but I have to say it makes me feel ridiculous because I can think of no source outside of Wikipedia which capitalizes the English names of cetacean species. I understand that people may wonder if "red-winged blackbird" means the red-winged blackbird or just a blackbird which happens to have red wings, but the confusion simply does not arise for blue whales. On the few occasions when I've discussed Wikipedia with a cetacean expert I feel inclined to say, "sorry about the weird caps" and mumble something about birds. One place where capitalization is completely broken is our Orca article, where we capitalize the species name but I haven't been able to get consensus (granted, I haven't tried very hard) to capitalize the names of the resident and transient subtypes within the species. If we don't capitalize subtype names, we certainly shouldn't be capitalizing species names. Kla’quot (talk | contribs) 04:42, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Summary, and request to wrap this up: As Owain.davies notes, there seems to a barely short-of-unanimous consensus to go with lower-casing. There is no contest (as Jwinius leads us to consider) that actual proper names embedded in common names for plants or animals are capitalized ("European swallow", not "european swallow"); that's a non-issue. TeamZissou points out that articles would be better truly "living" at the scientific name (a view that others have agreed and disagreed with in the past; this appears to be a completely different issue, deserving of its own debate). Clayoquot notes that the handling even among "capitalization boosters" is inconsistent (while I can observe that the usage among anti-capitalizers is not inconsistent in any way; I leave it to others to verify this for themselves). Clayoquot also suggests that for birds we "leave it to the WP:BIRD people", but I assert that this clearly isn't workable - WP:MOS must be consistent and not make random exceptions for WikiProjects that happen to be more vocal than others. Sabine's Sunbird took umbrage at the tone of the "quash the rebels" joke (and someone made a similar comment over at WP:MOSNUM), apparently without realizing the tone was meant in a very tongue-in-cheek manner and was over-the-top to emphasize that it was joking (I'm the culprit; it really was meant as a joke. Anyone with the gumption to edit in WP:MOS or related pages is surely already familiar with WP:AGF and related concepts, and would not really be coming here to label people as sinister monsters!) Anyway... Fluri reports that a major, even activistic, proponent of the capitalization can't produce anything authoritative in support of this practice. Jimfbleak appears to suggest (I'm certainly willing to stand corrected if I'm misinterpreting) that because a well-populated bird project prefers the capitalization that a WP-wide MOS discussion is out-voted (I call this suspect reasoning because a project may come to internal consensus early on with, say, 3 members, and that mini-consensus simply be accepted by later joiners; meanwhile this discussion right now is far more representative of WP-wide views, precisely because it is not so homogenous.) If I recall correctly, Owain, Tony1 and others note that the problem of "x-something y" ("red-crested fieldhopper", etc.) being ambiguous (is it a common name for a species, or description of traits of an individual specimen?) can be solved by more careful article wording. JerryFriedman theorizes that pro-capitalization complaints will ensue in at least as large numbers as anti-capitalization complaints now ensue. I think that captures all of the high points.
On reading all of this, and remaining quite uncharacteristically silent (If you know me as a meta-Wikipedian at all) on a matter I actually feel very strongly about, I really have to affirmatively propose that WP:MOS and any relevant subpage thereof, and any relevant project or topical page, like WP:BIRD quasi-guidelines, be updated to call for lower-casing. There simply isn't any authoritative source for capitalizing such terms as Grey Wolf and Blue Jay [sic], and an overwhelming flood of anti-capitalization sources. Virtually every paper dictionary, encyclopedia, magazine article, etc., etc., goes with lower case. The only hold-outs appear to be certain (and not all) mass-market field guide books. The strongest pro-upper-case argument appears to be a weak one for disambiguation, while the arguments against this are piling up. The theory that pro-upper-casing complaints will arise and will not be assuageable has yet to be tested. Let's test it.SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 08:01, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
No, not agreed to. This is attempting to railroad the issue. Take this up on WikiProject Tree of Life where the affected people can be found and inform all stakeholders so that the debate is balanced and without rancour. And on a personal note, please be polite and not label others as biologists or Germans or renegades. AshLin 08:28, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
WP:MOS trumps WP:TREE and all other WikiProjects, by definition. If WikiProject Tree of Life people want to shape MOS, then come on down, but what the MOS says will not be determined at a WPP talk page. My feeling is, of this moment, that the ToL people who actually care about this at all have already given us their input. Despite your railroading accusation, I'm quite happy to keep this open another week if that's what it takes to get further input from someone there who may have missed it. I'm not trying to push my views (see my contribs today; I just WP:SFD'd myself, having changed my mind on something I once felt strongly about). Rather, this debate has stalled, as in {{Stale}} stalled, and a review of the comments here actually shows a clear course of action to my mind. If you contend that crucial voices have not been heard, then by all means invite them to speak up. A consensus formed that is missing the most relevant voices would not be a valid consensus. Again, I'm skeptical that these voices have not already spoken, but I am sometimes surprised and usually enjoy the experience. PS: I didn't realize that "biologist" was an epithet. Since when? If you are implying that anyone but the biology sector, in fact the narrow "birder" quadrant of the biology sector, favors common name capitalization, I don't see any reliable evidence of this, and much to refute it. Also, I did not call anyone a German (nor do I have any problem with Germans); I referred to the Germanization of English nouns – capitalization of nouns simply because they are nouns, a practice common in German and some other Germanic languages, including Middle English, but abandoned by Modern English in the early 19th century (thus "We hold these Truths..." vs. "Four-score and seven years" not "Years"). With regard to "renegades", I thought it was a perfectly appropriate term. "Rebel" implies a losing cause, and "revolutionary" implies a winning one, while "renegade" at least to me implies neither viewpoint. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 09:06, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Indeed you didn't call anyone a German, but "Germanization" is still a red herring. No one here is recommending "capitalization of nouns just because they are nouns".
The primary meaning of "renegade" is "turncoat, deserter". In America (AHD) but not Britain (NSOED), it can also mean "outlaw, rebel". You shouldn't be surprised if people perceive it as insulting because they don't know the American meaning or because they know the connotations from the original meaning and frequent usage (the latter, in my case as an American). To return to the point of the discussion, the term is inappropriate because the people arguing with you aren't defying any "law" or rebelling. We've been following guidelines arrived at by the established process, after debate (or so I gather—I wasn't involved), and we're asking for the guidelines to remain unchanged. —JerryFriedman 15:35, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Thanks to KP Botany for letting WP:PLANTS know about this discussion. It looks like you're ready to wrap it up but I hadn't heard about it until yesterday (5 August). Having been involved in these discussions before from a botanical point of view, I thought I'd drop my thoughts here as well. Unlike KP Botany, this botanist is not also a birder, so I am unable to have my opinion informed by that experience. My perception of capitalization of common names in botany has led me to conclude there is no conclusion. One third of my field guides use capitalized names, another third use lowercase names, and the remainder use SMALL CAPS. (But Wikipedia is not a field guide). The majority of the taxonomic literature I read doesn't use capitalized names, but the literature I read is a very small subset of botanical literature. My personal style preference is to follow The Chicago Manual of Style and thus I would prefer to see coast Douglas-fir, red alder, and Sitka spruce. To respond briefly to the point that perhaps "red alder" could refer to any alder that appears to be red, I feel that using lowercase common names in Wikipedia will have an advantage over print media in this respect. At the first mention of the specific species red alder, the link to its correct article will bind the name together and reduce confusion over whether the editors of the article meant any alder that's red or the red alder. Print media doesn't have the luxury of the altered font color and sometimes underlined text for links. At the risk of exposing myself to the ire of WP:BIRDers, I would have to support lowercase capitalization, though I recognize the special case of some areas of study. We do have to remember, however, that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and not a field guide. I'll leave us with a note from WP:CAPS (which I realize is part of a naming convention and not the MOS):
Because credibility is a primary objective in the creation of any reference work, and because Wikipedia strives to become a leading (if not the leading) reference work in its genre, formality and an adherence to conventions widely used in the genre are critically important to credibility. See these recommended reference works for capitalization conventions: The Chicago Manual of Style, Fowler's Modern English Usage (Third edition).
Cheers, --Rkitko (talk) 13:15, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Since there seems to be a desire for a default MOS position, rather than letting projects chose (or accept both) can I suggest that the default standard spelling for fauna and flora articles should be British English for those species not endemic to the USA/Canada? After all, the majority of English-speaking countries use British English or very similar versions, and it seems illogical to dictate capitalisation (against the wishes of many users) and not dictate a spelling convention too. Jimfbleak 14:53, 7 August 2007 (UTC)

Common Names section break part II

  1. First of all, people who are not biologists or taxonomists need to understand the difference between birds and other faunal species. Ornithologists have standardizes common names of birds so that they are, within their regions, the equivalent of using scientific names: one name describes one and only one bird. This is not the situation with other faunal species, so lumping them altogether would not make Wikipedia easier to use, but rather make it an outsider and difficult for birders to use to acquire information, even with redirects. In addtion, because of this standardization, even in technical articles, a bird's scientific name might not be used.
  2. Second of all, the press does not everywhere italicize binomials, so pointing to what newspapers do is not the way to resolve this.
  3. Third, the animal articles where grey wolf, and, even the bird articles where Bald Eagle are capitalized look dreadful. But I can handle Bald Eagle, because that is what it is called in all my birding books.
  4. Fourth, the Brittish do prefer the capitalization of common names. Common names differ from region to region, and in some countries common names are, themselves, standardizes. This is difficult to do with English common names for cosmopolitan species, in particular.
  5. Fifth, wholesale dictating to projects what they should do without some understanding of the underlying issues, such as the difference between administrative bodies to standardize names of birds and simply using the local vernacular for many other regionally and locally distributed animals, is hardly conducive to maintaining the very limited number of editors Wikipedia has doing hard work on species articles and taxonomy right now. Maybe toning it down a bit, and bringing the problem up with the projects in respect of the work done on articles by these members, might be more conducive to having an encyclopedia still being written with any names. It's a lot of work researching and writing articles on flora and fauna with the immense changes taking place due to the increased power of molecular genetics (PCR and powerful computers means data beyond assimilation) in the biological sciences today, please don't try to ram anything down the throats of the editors doing this hard work.

KP Botany 00:51, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

No one cares what ornithologists do in their own field-specific publications. This is not Ornithopedia. Ornithology does not get a special pass from style guidelines that apply to everything else just because its journals have developed their own special, internal styles that no one else in the world uses. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 08:04, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
PS: By the way, this time I'm not joking. This "we bird specialists birders get to write Wikipedia in our own precious, special little way, and to hell with real-world, laypeople readers' expectations of consistency" attitude is really getting my goat. Oh, sorry, I mean my Goat. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 08:07, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
PPS: Furthermore, your point 2 was never at issue. Point 3 is the whole issue; if you are arguing for some kind of exception, you are not making your case in a parseable manner. Point 4 has no cited support (it's very easy to claim "this is just a US imperialism vs. beat up UK English PoV pushing example" but there's no proof of that on the table.) Point 5, this WikiProject superiority thing, just doens't cut it. WPPs don't get special dispensation to depart for left field just because they assert that they are right or special. If my tone seems like it needs to go down a notch, it is because this apparent WikiProject arrogance is so darned frustrating (and I say that as the founder of two active WikiProjects; I know how to approach that line and back well away from it). — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 08:16, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Sorry, Wikipedia is not a place where every person has to conform just because xx or yy said so. The Manual of Style gives room for variance.

In June 2005, the Arbitration Committee ruled that, when either of two styles is acceptable, it is inappropriate for an editor to change an article from one style to another unless there is a substantial reason to do so (for example, it is acceptable to change from American to British spelling if the article concerns a British topic, and vice versa). Edit warring over optional styles is unacceptable. If an article has been stable in a given style, it should not be converted without a style-independent reason. Where in doubt, defer to the style used by the first major contributor.

If animal names are consistently capitalised or not capitalised in a Wikipedia project, there still is a level of consistency applied. Capitalising or not capitalising is a choice of style. It is hence acceptable to choose one or the other, especially when the matter is already decided and MOS has permitted it vide the naming convention guideline. The MOS itself says its a guideline, and so it should be. It is not a fatwa of the kind you would like imposed on all of us. For you to run roughshod over established usage is just that. The MOS gave the leeway, you want to take it away basically on the ground that others do things differently. Big-endian vs small-endian. As far as your opinion about WikiProject arrogance goes, thats your personal view. Wikipedia allowed WikiProjects to exist and lay down their own guidelines and in case of Lepidoptera and Birds, the MOS has given the leeway to them in capitalisation explicitly. As far as I am concerned I have got a freedom to capitalise in Wikipedia and you are attempting to take away my ability to do that by unilaterally changing it without my consent. Just by raking up an issue in MOS talk page doesnt mean that a whole bunch of reasoned, well-meaning people's work, labour and practices are not worth a rupee. If you want consensus, I would advise you to approach the issue with neutral tone rather than writing aggressively. And as long as MOS remains a guideline, IMHO we are free to exercise our legitimate right to edit as we desire as long as we are not vandalising, sock-puppetting, etc. AshLin 09:54, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Something tells me that even SMcCandlish is not under the illusion that the MoS can ever be used to force editors to do anything. After all, getting this group to agree on anything is like trying to herd cats. If you think that capitalizing common names in your articles is the right thing to do, then no one is going to stop you. Hey, I'm pretty sure that I ignore the MoS more often than you do! However, you have to admit that in the English language, these kind of nouns are usually not capitalized, so it's a bit strange for the MoS to advise editors to do the opposite. --Jwinius 12:19, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
That's not completely true, Jaap. I have a number of butterfly books and they all tend to capitalise. The trouble is almost all the names of butterflies and moths are taken from something else. Uncapitalised they stand for anything else. monarch means one thing, Monarch another. Painted Lady means one thing, painted lady another. It is not the case with animals - they mostly have unique names so do snakes - butterflies are filled with names which unless capitalised are other things. They borrow from everywhere - heraldry, professions, animals, colours etc. Except for some Hawaiin (Kamewehaha or something like that) or ancestral Australian names such as Bogong moth, almost all lepidoptera names belong to the common language. If you say zebra, do you mean the mammal or the butterfly? Same with Common Crow - Corvus spp or Euploea core? Here ;-) even capitalisation doesnt help - both Birds & butterflies are capitalised. AshLin 12:37, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Yes, and I have some popular snake books that also do that: Mehrtens (1987), for example, which I often cite as a reference. I think it's a mechanism that authors like to use to get names to stand out a little more in the text. However, I don't think it's correct to take these examples and then extrapolate so far as to say that they represent a trend or a rule in the English language in general. In German it's a rule, in English it's a literary freedom. --Jwinius 13:17, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
To respond to SMcCandlish above: I do care what ornithologists do.
By now you've seen plenty of evidence that it's not just ornithology and birding where common names are capitalized, though it's not the majority of biology by any stretch.
There are a few real bird specialists here capitalizing bird names (not just birders—though I'm just a birder).
No one is asking to write Wikipedia in our own "precious, special little way"—just those parts where that way is appropriate.
No one is saying WikiProjects overrule the MoS. We're saying the MoS should continue to give some flexibility in matters of style where different conventions are used. To me, this is precisely analogous to saying that articles about the Indian subcontinent can or should be written in subcontinental English.
As for arrogance, check this out, from Common name:
Botanists sometimes maintain official common names for plants, although this will vary greatly. Informally, botanists generally do not capitalize any common names; this can be seen as a sign of "professionalism" since the uninitiated may have difficulty in interpreting names such as "the hairy brome" for localities where the Hairy Brome (Bromus ramosus) is not the only member of the genus.[citation needed]
If this is true, it looks to me like not capitalizing is preferring professional pride to clarity for amateurs' benefit. —JerryFriedman 16:08, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
In some ways, I think this discussion is getting off "in the weeds" and I'd like to change the focus from "I have a right to do this." and "You have no right to do that." to a more fundamental analysis. As a writer, the very first thing that one does when composing any text is ask himself "What is the target audience for this work?" A writer tries his hardest to answer that question with the utmost clarity and then tries to keep the answer, whatever it turns out to be, emblazoned in big letters above his desk as he writes. When a question of style presents itself, a writer pulls out that answer and tries to arrive at a solution that is informed by that answer. In my opinion, the very first thing we need to do to resolve this style question is to decide upon what our target audience is. If our target audience is the people who read bird field guides we will, in all likelihood, reach a different conclusion than if our target audience is a group of young children. That doesn't make one or the other of those solutions inherently right or wrong in and of itself; it simply means that one choice is better than another for a given situation (for a given audience.) In much the same way as my language would, perforce, be different when delivering a paper to a group of ichthyologists than it would be when speaking to a class of grade six students. My suggestion would be that we reach consensus on what Wikipedia's target audience is because I posit that style disputes will yield more readily to resolution once we've answered that fundamental question. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 14:41, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
I haven't seen any Wikipedia articles that appear to be written for children (though I've seen some that appear to have been written by children). Beyond that, I think it would be quite hard to characterize a target audience for all the articles. However, I'd say most of our articles about taxa are going to be of interest to people who read… you know this is coming… field guides and other specialized works. Notable exceptions are taxa that make the news—snail darter, Ivory-billed Woodpecker—those frequently mentioned in literature, and things like national symbols. —JerryFriedman 15:45, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Dave, although I understand where you're coming from, somehow I don't think that the issue at hand is going to be resolved by asking everyone to first agree on how to answer such a "deep philosophical question." This discussion is simply about whether the MOS should advise editors to capitalize common names or not. --Jwinius 15:58, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Fair enough but, at the risk of belabouring this, my point is that the reason we can't agree on "whether the MOS should advise editors to capitalize common names or not" is precisely because we can't agree on what you call the philosophical question of what our target audience is. What we're doing is like arguing with a car salesman about the price of a pick-up truck when we're really trying to buy a Vespa scooter. As I said earlier, I maintain that our target audience is the average netizen who reads at about a grade 10 level or less. At least that's the impression I get from the talk pages and from the casual, drive-by, anon IP contributions to the articles on my watchlist. Very seldom does someone come by the Atlantic salmon article, for example, to ask about the species' place in the detailed phylogeny of the Salmoniformes or about the relative 'r-K' selectedness of the fish. Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that those things need be excluded from the article but that, if we include them, they should be written in a style that a grade 10 student would understand. This is the sort of analysis I'm encouraging. Finally, let me also state what is, perhaps, obvious. If we write articles in a style appropriate for specialists and keen amateurs, well, specialists and keen amateurs are the only ones likely to wade through them and read them. So, in a very real sense, a writer selects his audience. That's why I maintain that our inability to agree on our audience is the root cause of our disagreement on style and that we're, in my view, unlikely to solve the one, once and for all, without first agreeing on the other. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 20:48, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
I removed the text from Common names on botanists, at least until a citation is forthcoming--one that states which botanists have standardized what common names. This may be the case in some places, but in general professional botanists use a huge number of scientific names for plants and try to include common names when interacting with the lay public, when common names are available. However, there is a larger number of familiar plants without standardized common names, and more familiar plants with multiple common names, than familiar animals, so the situation is a bit different with botany and plant names. In US federal government documents for environmental impacts, where common names are often required, the commen names wind up being the specific epithet plus the genus, for example, Gerbera burmanni becomes Bruman's gerber daisy.
I can't really think of any responses for the rant against birders writing bird aritcles and people interested in a specific area writing articles about what they know. KP Botany 17:13, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

I'm still having difficulty understanding why this debate is taking place, as surely bird species names (any species names for that matter) are proper nouns. While there are many geese, there is only one Pink-footed Goose, hence it is a proper noun, surely? Can someone explain where my thought processes are going wrong? SP-KP 18:02, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

That may be true for some bird names officially sanctioned by the AOU, but otherwise common names everywhere are rarely unambiguous. Anyway, here's a completely different point of view. I happen to be in contact with a professional herpetologist who once wrote a book on venomous snakes. In that book, he also capitalized the common names. When I asked him why, he replied "Guess it makes it easier working from the index." --Jwinius 18:26, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Jwinius, was that intended as a reply to my question or to something else? It doesn't seem to address the point I'm raising, which is that (a) under the rules of grammar, proper nouns are capitalised (b) proper nouns are (generally) things which exist singularly (c) except in those cases where a species name has been applied to more than one species (e.g. Fan-tailed Warbler) all bird species names are singular ("there is only one Pink-footed Goose"). Hence, bird species names should be capitalised. SP-KP 18:36, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Yes, you could argue that, as opposed to "fan-tailed warbler", which refers to two different entities -- species -- "Pink-footed Goose" refers to a single species and therefore deserves to be capitalized. My point is that, overwhelmingly, common names are not regulated and are too often ambiguous. So, according to your own reasoning, always capitalizing common names will too often yield incorrect results. --Jwinius 21:32, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
But human personal names aren't regulated either, and we still write "John Smith" rather than john smith, even though that name is far more ambiguous than any bird name. Hence my use of the term 'generally' above. I'm not sure I understand the relevance of your point about returning ambiguous results, though - this will be the case for an ambiguous name whether it is capitalised or not, won't it? SP-KP 21:37, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
The rule doesn't really apply to names for people: those are capitalized by convention regardless. No such thing exists for the names at issue. What I meant to say was that, if you take a random series of common names, it is highly likely that a number of them will refer to multiple species. Therefore, according to your rule, it will usually not be correct to capitalize them all. Additionally, since there is no regulating body to vouch for the uniqueness for common names in general, you can never know for sure whether any of them are truly unique or not, by which measure you would not be allowed to capitalize any of them. --Jwinius 22:22, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
But Human Beings and Pink-footed Geese don't exist in the singular. The Pink-footed Goose my brother cooked for his Thanksgiving dinner probably existed in the singular, and his name was Barnaby. The Human Being, my brother is named Alexander, these are their proper nouns in English. I don't know that the rules of English apply to things like common names for species, because, again, we're not talking about one properly named singularity with a sommon name. KP Botany 18:58, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

KPBotany, your suggestion that the rules of English may not apply to species' common names is an interesting one; can you expand on your reasoning? Are there any other categories of thing to which these rules do not apply? I must admit, I had thought that these rules were pretty much universal - am I wrong?

On the point of whether species common names are singular, I'm not sure I understand your reasoning. I agree that if your brother cooked a goose which was a member of the species known as Pink-footed Goose, that when we refer to that goose, or bird, or meal, we don't treat those words as proper nouns, as they are classes of thing rather than singular things. However, there is only one species called Pink-footed Goose, so why is this not a proper noun? SP-KP 19:36, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Actually, if he named the bird, and we refer to the bird by name, we capitalize the name. We capitalize proper nouns in English because this is a grammatical rule of written Standard English. The bird is a member of the species Pink-footed Goose, but that's NOT the bird's name. It's name was Barnaby, and this, under the rules of English grammar is always capitalized, just like my brother is a member of the species Homo sapiens, or human beings, but his name is Alexander, and that, just like Barnaby's name, is always capitalized under the rules of grammar for English.
If you think that I am incorrect, please come up with a grammar that shows that the names of species are capitalized in English. There isn't one.
There are no rules in Standard English about capitalizing the common names of organisms. If there were, we wouldn't be having this discussion. KP Botany 21:48, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure you've misunderstood what I'm saying. I agree with you that the individual bird's name, Barnaby, should be capitalised. But I'm not talking about the individual bird - I'm talking about the name of the species to which it belongs. Just as the individual bird has been named (Barnaby), the individual species has been named (Pink-footed Goose). I completely agree that, to quote you, "there are no rules in Standard English about capitalizing the common names of organisms". That's because, surely, there is no need for specific rules for this particular category of proper noun - the general rules for capitalising proper nouns apply. Or are you suggesting that the name given to a species is not a proper noun? If so, why is this the case, when names given to other categories of thing are considered to be proper nouns? As an example, we say Pancake Day, rather than pancake day, even though there are (going to be) an infinite number of such days. I'm sure you are correct in saying that I must be wrong - as you say, if it was this obvious, we wouldn't be discussing the subject - but I can't see the flaw in my reasoning. Can you have another try at pointing it out? SP-KP 22:07, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Actually, we only say Pancake Day if we are writing about a specific Pancake Day, otherwise it's simply pancake days. And, if we're talking about a specific Pancake Day, we usually deliminate it with a spoken or unspoken qualifier, Moose Pancake Breakfast, Boy Scouts Pancake Breakfast. These, however, are titles, which take rules of capitalization for titles, depending upon the dialect of Standard English being used.
I can't give you these rules in English for capitalizing common names of species because they don't exist, because common names of species are not standardized by rules of English grammar. There are comments in style guides about it, though, and these are not strictly the same throughout English, my MLA, versus Harvard, versus other styles all differ a bit. The MLA doesn't comment on it at all.

Here are some web sites that I could find that list what are common nouns, note that the names of animals, such as Barnaby's in my example, are given as proper nouns that require capitilization, but names of species are not given as such:

Here's a web site from the Canadian government that synopsizes the rules I generally use, and note, that the proper names of birds are capitalized:

Merriem Websters google books:

Notice in this that the Canadian government very carefully distinguishes between a "proper" name for a bird, one given authoritative by a nomenclatural body, and the vernacular name for the bird. Here's one from another website:[3]

  • 1. Do not capitalize common names of animals and plants unless the name contains a

proper noun. In this case, the proper noun is capitalized, but any element of the name following or preceding the proper noun is lowercase:

  • EXAMPLE: The oldest seed ever found is the Arctic lupine, thought to be over

10,000 years old.

  • EXAMPLE: The oldest inhabitants on Earth are the deep-sea snails, which have

not changed over the last 500 million years. Maybe the Canadian site helps in that a common name isn't necessarily a proper name, except that, in the casse of birds, it is a proper name. I hadn't thought of it like that, just that the birding names are given authority because they are standardized. KP Botany 22:25, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

There may be no "rules" that I'm aware of, but the style guide that I prefer to use has something to say: The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition, addresses common names of plants and animals in 8.136. For the correct capitalization and spelling of common names of plants and animals, consult a dictionary or the authoritative guides to nomenclature, the ICBN and the ICZN, mentioned in 8.127. In any one work, a single source should be followed. In general, Chicago recommends capitalizing only proper nouns and adjectives, as in the following examples, which conform to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.Dutchman's-breeches, mayapple, jack-in-the-pulpit, rhesus monkey, Rocky Mountain sheep, Cooper's hawk. Perhaps this can inform the discussion? --Rkitko (talk) 22:23, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
It is worth noting that a single name can be both a Proper and improper noun, depending on its use in a sentence. The Dog is the common name describing a member of a single entity: the species Canis lupus. Unless I am talking about the species as a whole in the most formal of introductions, however, it would feel most absurd to capitalize the word "dog" at its every use. Likewise, I'd rather not talk about the Rhesus Monkey eating a Coconut while sitting in a Banyan Tree. Forcing capitalization on a set of nouns that serve both as names and as descriptions is absurd. --NoahElhardt 22:35, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

KP Botany, on the Pancake Day point, do you have the same notion of Pancake Day in your part of the world that we have here in Britain? We have a single day every calender year called Pancake Day, usually in February, I think. It's official title is Shrove Tuesday. Whichever title we use, if I am describing either a specific Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday, or the Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday concept, the accepted practice in Britain is to capitalise. I can't think when I would ever use lower case. The reason for this is that the day exists singularly, and its name is therefore a proper noun. This isn't because of any specific rule of grammar relating to names of days, it's because of a general rule of grammar relating to proper nouns. I'm still not sure at which step in our thinking we diverge - for example, unless I've missed it, you haven't said whether you think a name given to a species is a proper noun or not. Above, I made three statements (which I repeat here in slightly amended form):

(a) under the rules of grammar, proper nouns are always capitalised
(b) proper nouns are (generally) things which exist singularly
(c) except in those cases where a species name has been applied to more than one species (e.g. Fan-tailed Warbler) all bird species names are singular ("there is only one Pink-footed Goose").

To help me, can you tell me which of the three you agree with? Thanks SP-KP 22:47, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

(a) is true. (b) is true. (c) is true only for common names for bird species according to the AOU's taxonomy (assuming they are all unique). Otherwise, because they are often ambiguous and unregulated, common names should not be considered singular. (BTW, shouldn't it be "except in those cases where a common name has been applied to more than one species"?) --Jwinius 23:11, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
Oh, you were talking about Mardis Gras, Paczki Day, Shrove Tuesday! I thought you were talking about pancake breakfasts. No, holidays in the US are generally capitalized in English as proper nouns, just like in the UK. It's one day, one single day, and, yes, it's because of a general rule of grammar relating to proper nouns, this name has it's own day, just like Alexander's goose had it's own name.
The problem is those birders, you know. I agree that (a) is true, and (b) is true, and (c) is true only for bird species which have been given proper names according to rules of taxonomical nomenclature for common names of birds, but in general, this isn't the case for most animals, and it's not the case for plants. For example, Rkitko above quotes the Chicago Manual of Style of capitalizing common names of plants according to ICBN, but the ICBN doesn't deal with common names of plants, it deals only with scientific names. So the problem is I'm discussing it generally, but you offered up a goose as an example, and it's the exception because of the way bird names are dealt with. Gray whale, however, and brown bear, are not the same thing, because these are neither proper nor standardized common names, no matter if you think everyone living in brown bear country knows to properly fear that species more than the black bears or not. KP Botany 23:58, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
With the Chicago Manual of Style in the discussion, I searched Amazon for books published by the U. of C. Press. Of the first two I found, one did not capitalize; the other ( did. (The first is The Bird Almanac, by David Bird, which consists mostly of tables, where I see no possibility of ambiguity; the second is How Birds Migrate, by Paul Kerlinger, which seems to be at a fairly popular level.) I surmise that the U. of C. Press sees a good reason to let bird books vary from its own "in general" guideline. —JerryFriedman 04:19, 7 August 2007 (UTC)
It may well do, but as was pointed out above, this is not Ornithopedia, and therefore it is a general text, rather than specific just for bird enthusiasts, making that a somewhat irrelevant point. Owain.davies 06:50, 7 August 2007 (UTC)
JerryFriedman also pointed out that How Birds Migrate is a popular text - aimed at everyone. Other examples of a popular science book aimed at everyone that uses caps is Carl Safina's Eye of the Albatross and Phillip Hoose's The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (which managed to win the The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in spite of its grammatical renegade status). Sabine's Sunbird talk 07:50, 7 August 2007 (UTC)

Trying to put it all together—Official names (for birds, butterflies, almost everything in Britain) are proper nouns, because they refer unambiguously (within the constraints of biological understanding) to species. Other vernacular names are not proper nouns, because they are not used with that level of precision (e.g., dog, poppy, hemlock, puma). Among biologists, some have elevated common names, made attempts to standardize their use, and in effect made them proper nouns. This is reflected in orthography; most such names are capitalized. Other biologists have deprecated common names ("if scientific names were good enough for Linnaeus, they're good enough for me"). In that context, the bulk of common names are not proper nouns, because they have no clear assignment to an entity.

Nevertheless, common names can end up having a clear association with a species through usage. For example, in many contexts "puma" is Felis concolor, "dog" is Canis familiaris, and "boojum tree" is Fouquieria columnaris. I don't think anyone here would suggest that we capitalize Dog, but in a group of increasingly specific common names, where do we draw the line? Certainly it's "tree", and "oak", but what about "live oak", or "coast live oak", the last in North America being unambiguously Quercus agrifolia.

It seems to me that the historical component is strong. Biologists who elevate common names capitalize them, and biologists who deprecate common names don't, for reasons that may have to do with proper nouns, but that have moved on from that rule. One can imagine a list of common names for a single species, some official and some vernacular, with the official ones capitalized and the vernacular ones not.

Because Wikipedia is descriptive, not prescriptive, it makes sense to me to capture this historically-based usage, rather than shoe-horn everything into one-style-fits-all.--Curtis Clark 13:44, 7 August 2007 (UTC)

What I and several others keep trying to point out, is that precious few common (vernacular) names have earned the right to be called proper nouns. This is only the case for bird names that are regulated by the AOU; other than that, all common names are unregulated, so one can only assume that certain ones are truly singular, but never know for certain. By this reasoning, MOS policy should not be to capitalize common names by default. Note: If these names tend to be capitalized in Britain anyway, that's called convention. --Jwinius 17:29, 7 August 2007 (UTC)
If it makes any difference to anyone, the Oxford, Cambridge and Websters dictionaries all favour lower case, including for common bird species. Owain.davies 18:23, 7 August 2007 (UTC)
It does. Modern dictionaries record usage instead of favoring it, and "dog" is simply not capitalized in ordinary usage.
There's no sharp dividing line between proper and common nouns, which is why "summer" could go from usual capital to usually lower-case. Nevertheless, species names really don't look like common names to me. Baseball and chess are codified by recognized authorities, but we usually don't capitalize them (though I have a "Hoyle" that capitalizes names of games). Foreclosure is defined by law in various jurisdictions, and an action is either a foreclosure or it's not (just as a bird is either a Pink-Footed Goose or not). There's only one sulfuric acid and one U.S. dollar bill. We don't capitalize any of these.
So I'm sorry to disagree with you, SP-KP, but we don't capitalize species for reasons of grammar. We (you and I and many others) do it for clarity and because of the convention that developed for reasons of clarity in certain areas of biology.
On another subject, Owain, I think my example of a book from the U. of C. Press that capitalizes bird names, despite what's in the CMOS, is relevant. The readership of How Birds Migrate is probably very similar to that of bird migration and the exception to the overall style rule probably applies for the same reason. Only I think, as you do, that we should continue to make the exception explicit. —JerryFriedman 23:22, 7 August 2007 (UTC)
Which brings us back to what i said before which is to use lower case for all instances of animals and birds, with the limited exception of birds, where they appear in specific ornithological article. Not seen anyone disagree with that yet. Owain.davies 06:55, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Well, AshLin pointed out that capitalization is even more necessary for Lepidoptera—otherwise you get "The miller is related to the sycamore and less closely to the shark." I'd suggest that instead of specifically naming taxa, the MoS allow capitalization for articles that are part of a project where capitalization is the majority practice in the field and among the participants in the project. —JerryFriedman 14:00, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

My two cents: I really don't care one way or the other whether somebody capitalizes common names or uses lower case in articles. That should be the least of our worries in an encyclopedia in which there are so many incomplete and outright erroneous articles. The problem is there is no consensus in the real world as to whether common names of animals or plants should be capitalized. It's very similar to the problem of American vs. British spellings ("color" vs. "colour"): how can an English-language encyclopedia that is truly international reasonably choose between the two? The Wikipedia solution is to allow both. But the bottom line is this: the fastest way to piss off and chase away the editors who are actually contributing content to articles is to come in and edit those articles to "standardize" language and typography in a way that language and typography in their own fields are not standardized. For example, if the Wikipedia MOS decided that species names are not to be written in italics, and tried to enforce it, I--a botanist by profession who contributes almost exclusively to botanical articles--would be out of here immediately. So... is the capitalization-of-common-names-for-the-sake-of-consistency issue important enough to risk losing valuable editors over? MrDarwin 21:33, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

Common names proposal

Proposal: Except for the case of naming articles (where the article naming conventions would apply), I think we could all live with it if the MOS were to say something like: "Except at the start of a sentence, common names of animals and plants in the body of an article are always written in lower case unless part of the name is itself a proper noun (e.g. brook trout and dusky salamander but Jefferson salamander and Atlantic salmon). Individual Tree of Life daughter projects who wish to deviate from this general provision for reasons of convention within their project area will ensure that consensus to do so is generated and maintained. Currently, the following projects have arrived at such a consensus:" followed by a list of projects and a pointer to the discussion where it was established that the project would deviate. Unless I've radically misread all of the foregoing, I think this should be acceptable to most people in this discussion. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 15:20, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

In other words you propose we do what we have been doing? It works well for plants, already, and we've already debated the issue for quite some time, so I don't know that anyone would disagree, but, in spite of the hatred of Wiki Projects by one user displayed here, this would have to be discussed with the other members of the project--meaning, we would have to spend time discussing whether we agree to go forward doing what we're doing now. It doesn't seem to have much purpose. KP Botany 15:25, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Not precisely. The difference between what I am proposing and what we're doing now is that my proposal would make lower case the default unless a project could demonstrate that consensus has been reached on doing it differently. This has the advantage of eliminating, as I see it, the edit warring in projects without consensus (e.g. WP:MAMMALS) and it would also eliminate the case of those who are pushing to do something "over here" because that's the way it's done "over there". It makes it clear that there has to be convention within the field and consensus within the project. I maintain that a lot of the irritants out there are because people are doing things where no convention is demonstrable and where no consensus has been reached. The onus will now be on those people to demonstrate and discuss before changing articles to their personal preference. And I don't see where the proposal would require any project to re-open discussions that have already taken place — only that they be able to point to where that discussion occurred and that consensus was reached on the point. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 15:43, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Okay, I see your point with animals/mammals. I know that in their case, particularly with familiar large terrestrial mammals it sometimes just looks awful to see the capitalization of Elk and Cougar, and I've worked on one article where I convinced the authors to change it to, well, Standard English.
But, again, we have one person whose point is he hates projects, which seems to be what the whole point of this discussion is, getting back at projects and emphasizing that they don't have any say in this matter, and should stop writing articles, and leave it to people who really care about Wikipedia to write articles, and now you're going to gain the consensus that the projects have to do anything, even point to where they've discussed the issue? Why? We've already discussed it and know what we're doing--we're evil people who belong to projects and write articles on topics we enjoy, rather than obedient volunteers who obsequiously know who exactly has appointed themselves in charge of the articles we write. The problem is the underlying reason for doing this, namely somebody is all irritated because a project done him wrong, so now we're going to force our authority over the projects and make them comply with ..... With what? Why not just ask the mammals folks to reach consensus and post their consensus, if that's the issue that needs resolved? KP Botany 17:26, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Alrighty, then. To be honest, I think a good deal of your resistance comes from some umbrage you've felt over someone's previous comments. I'd ask you to set that aside for a minute, even if it is justified, just long enough to evaluate my proposal on its merits and not through the filter of what some evil project-hater's machinations might be. I find it curious that what you're essentially objecting to is to asking the participants in a project to discuss changes to articles and having to reach consensus on what articles will look like. I thought that the entire premise of Wikipedia was discussion and consensus-building. As far as I can tell, I haven't suggested anything that removes the authority of a project's participants from doing anything they want just so long as they can demonstrate that they're reached a consensus on it. I'm only asking that they not be allowed to claim consensus where none exists. Hence, I've suggested that we ask them to point to where their project discussed the issue and reached consensus on it. You say it's already been discussed. Well, if that's the case, what's the harm in pointing to where? The reason I suggested that is so that it will become clear to anyone searching the MOS for guidance as to where the issue was discussed, what points were weighed and how was consensus achieved. If the issue hasn't been discussed, why wouldn't we want to require a project to discuss it and, I might stress, if and only if they want to deviate from the default Wikipedia style? What part of that discussion causes fear or suspicion? I'd sooner discuss it once in a full, blown-out drag-down and then reach a resolution instead of having people endlessly bickering about it in personal snipes across talk pages, mindless reversions and edit wars. But, to each his own, I suppose. Just for clarity, the elements of my view are these: 1) There should be a default style for critter articles that no one needs to justify further if they apply it. 2) Projects should be able to deviate from the default style for reasons of convention within their discipline if they first discuss it at the project level and reach consensus on it. 3) A project who has discussed it and reached consensus on it should be required to place a link in the MOS detailing where the discussion took place so interested and new contributors to the project can get a sense of what issues were weighed and how and why a decision was taken. Perhaps you can clarify for me which of these elements you disagree with and what sort of changes to my proposal you think are needed to address those concerns. At the same time, I'd like to get back to writing articles instead of proposals so, if resolution to this is impossible, I don't think we should waste any more of our time. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 18:03, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Lost in my whine was my final sentence, "Why not just ask the mammals folks to reach consensus and post their consensus, if that's the issue that needs resolved?"
We (plants) already have our naming conventions and the eons of discussions about plant article titles and common name usage in plant articles linked on our naming conventions. Are you sure the other projects don't already have this, links to the discussion of their naming conventions?
KP Botany 18:22, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Fair enough if that's the sole problem there is. See, I don't really know all the various projects and what they do. I spend most of my time on WP:FISH, where it's already been discussed and consensus reached, and on WP:MAMMALS, where I am constantly being told there is a consensus but where I can't find it and no one seems able to point me to it. So, from my limited perspective, your idea would work, I suppose. Except for two things. 1) Are we sure that it's only WP:MAMMALS and that there's not something lurking in another project that just hasn't reared its head, yet? and 2) Asking WP:MAMMALS to deal with it does nothing whatsoever to encourage the adoption of a default style that brings consistency across projects that don't have divergent conventions within their sphere (the purpose, I might add, of an MOS.) So, if telling WP:MAMMALS to deal with it (though I'm not really clear on how we do that in a precise logistical way) is the best we can settle on, OK. I'd simply thought we should, perhaps, come up with a more robust and fault-tolerant solution that also would have the effect of causing WP:MAMMALS to deal with it, if you see what I mean. Anyway, thanks again for your interesting thoughts. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 18:47, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
No, I'm not certain that mammals is the only problem in this area, and I think I asked the same question. I like the idea of coming up with something robust, but I think the attempt is already spoiled by the denigration of projects editors and by my dislike of being told I'm a worthless editor (I might not technically belong to the Plants project, but I participate and work with them and abide by their consensuses on matters and am happy to do so).
Logistically I think just asking the mammals folks to reach consensus for all editors would be the most straight-forward way to go about. I know you're frustrated dealing with them on occassion, but I think they realize (now, in spite of the initial disaster) that you're doing good work trying to help write excellent articles, and I think you could start a discussion and reach useful consensus there about naming styles for all to follow, and link the discussion and its results to the ToL naming conventions pages.
Yes, I think your idea behind this and intentions are correct, but I think it would be difficult right now to deal with. KP Botany 18:58, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

Whilst this does by and large follow the consensus i was trying to reach, i think we should be more specific, as i believe it is only birds who have the major issue with cpaitals. This has teh advantage of making discussions happen here, rather than arguing about sub-pages later. I suggest something along the lines of:

"For the commons names of flora and fauna, editors should write the name in lower case - for example "oak" or "lion". There are a limited number of exceptions to this:

  • Where the name is the first word of the sentence, it should be capitalised as any other word would be. For example "Black bears eat mostly leaves and berries"
  • Where the name relates to a proper noun, such as the name of a place. For example "the Bengal tiger has a range of over 500km"
  • For bird species, when discussed in articles specifically about birds or ornithology. For example, "the White-throated thrush builds large nests", as this is in line with general usage amongst bird experts. However, in general articles, editors can choose between capitalising the first letter of bird species, or following the overall lower case pattern, depending on personal preference, and article flow. For instance, "in the national park, you can see many bald eagles" or "in the national park, you can see many Bald eagles" would both be acceptable."

Would this be acceptable to the majority? Owain.davies 18:38, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

This doesn't address a number of issues, and again I guess I should have continued on about the denigration of wiki project editors. Plants already has hashed out their policy--based upon a number of issues not raised here. Now, there's a discussion at WP:MOS that basically is about how worthless projects editors are, and they should have some policy rammed down their throats? Who's going to change all the plant articles, folks who've denigrated their editors already? You going to hardblock all the plants folks first to make sure they don't come in and edit?
We've discussed this, come to a consensus, been told we're crap because we work within a project, and now we're going to be subject to the dictates of people who say we're crap, and who aren't biologists and aren't writing plants' articles? Once you make part of the discussion about one person's personal dislike for a certain type of editor on Wikipedia (those worthless projects folks), then trying to dictate to those you've expressed disdain for becomes, imo, a pointless task. I still suggest politely asking the mammals folks if they could reach consensus about style for their articles. KP Botany 18:52, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

Although I more often agree with KP Botany than not, I think it's important for MOS to say something, so that editors who are unaware of the projects have some direction. I think Dave's original proposal at the top of this section is a good framework for reworking Owain.davies' suggestion:

"For the commons names of flora and fauna, editors should write the name in lower case - for example "oak" or "lion". There are a limited number of exceptions to this:

  • Where the name is the first word of the sentence, it should be capitalised as any other word would be. For example "Black bears eat mostly leaves and berries"
  • Where the name relates to a proper noun, such as the name of a person or place. For example "the Bengal tiger has a range of over 500km"
  • For specific groups of organisms, there are specific rules of capitalization based on current and historic usage among those who study the organisms. These should ordinarily be followed:
  • It is customary in some countries for officially established common names of all flora and fauna to be capitalised. This custom may be followed for those names, but it is understood that not all editors will have access to the references needed to support these names; in such cases, using the general recommendation is acceptable."

--Curtis Clark 19:17, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

Yes, this accomodates other exceptions already present. And, yes, Dave is being completely reasonable in his proposals and for all the correct reasons. I'll support it. KP Botany 19:23, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
WP Lepidoptera is part of the 'Etc.' The rest of the text seems OK. Regards, AshLin 19:32, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Looks okay to me as well, although it should start out "For the common names of flora and fauna, ..." :-) --Jwinius 20:35, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
The WP:Plants naming convention doesn't mention capitalization, and so could be left out. Otherwise, it looks good to me. --NoahElhardt 20:47, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

Happy enough with that except two things:

  1. The flora page pointed to uses all lower case, so doesn't need its own example
  2. I'm not happy about the country specific part. I still strongly believe (and you can look at previous debates of British and American english) that we should aim for a single style on WP, and shouldn't start making country specific exceptions, especially on something like capitalisation.

regards Owain.davies 20:52, 8 August 2007 (UTC)

  • The compromise seems reasonable enough to me. My only concern is that we have to demonstrate concensus over and over again every time someone comes along complaining. It is tedious having this argument every couple of months. Sabine's Sunbird talk 23:25, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
No, I think Owain.davies is right about the country specific part; I should have said something about it immediately. I must have missed where this point was first raised, but it seems to me that including such an exception will likely sow the seeds for some really pointless discussions later on. Besides, aren't these WikiProjects all supposed to be international efforts? It seems silly to allow a few articles to be different due to national preferences. Also, what would happen if more English common names were added from other countries where they don't necessarily capitalize everything: would they both be capitalized, or just the one? --Jwinius 01:22, 9 August 2007 (UTC)
But it's not about "national preferences," some countries codify common names for organisms, these are then the official names used in documents such as EIRs. Common names of birds are codified by birding organizations in various countries, not by the ICZN. So, don't call it "national preferences" unless that's what it is. The common names that have official status may be capitalized, those that don't, aren't. KP Botany 01:34, 9 August 2007 (UTC)
This is an important distinction and I'm not sure it's adequately described in Curtis Clark's latest version. I do think, however, that it's very close to garnering broad support and I, too, support the thrust of it. If I may be so bold as to suggest a small, subtle wording change just for the last point? Maybe change from:
Dave (Talk | contribs) 04:19, 9 August 2007 (UTC)
I'm fine with this.--Curtis Clark 13:54, 9 August 2007 (UTC)
Very well. If we've already allowed the exception for the AOU and this is much the same thing, then I suppose it would be inconsistent of us not to allow this also. We'll just have to hope that editors will remain reasonable in cases of potential conflict. --Jwinius 11:21, 9 August 2007 (UTC)
You're correct, of course, and that concerns me, too. Nonetheless, I do think this is the truest consensus available to us at this point. Of course, if editors fail to "remain reasonable in cases of potential conflict", we can always discuss that more specific problem at that point without having to re-invent all the rest. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 12:16, 9 August 2007 (UTC)

Okay, let's analyze what we have so far:


(organism is covered by one of the listed naming conventions) follow that convention

else if

(organism is named in an official national standard that has its own rules of capitalization) use those rules, but with the expectation that others who are ignorant of the rules may change the capitalization, at which point AGF

else if

(the name begins a sentence or contains a name of a place or person) capitalize according to English standard usage


lowercase all parts of the name.

Does this sum it up?

I think that naming conventions such as the one for flora that don't differ from this general standard should still be listed, since they and this can change independently and not always be identical.--Curtis Clark 14:31, 9 August 2007 (UTC)

fundamentally disagree with that last part - there is only one project asking for or requiring an exception, therefore that should be the only one who gets one. This goes back to some discussions on other sub-MOS etc. where people push through controversial changes in a sub-group without anyone here noticing.
And i still disagree on the national usage thing - can anyone provide an example of when this should be used? Owain.davies 16:45, 9 August 2007 (UTC)
Well, you have WP Mammals because of which this discussion came about. WP Plants & Birds are well-established WikiProjects with guidelines long-established. WP Lepidoptera, a more recent project is also one affected and I have been pitching in on behalf of the WikiProject. Participants in all these WikiProjects have been posting in this discussion. Besides that the Dragonflies are capitalised too but they unfortunately dont have a separate WikiProject to talk on this aspect and come under the generic WikiProject Arthropods. So, your statement is not correct. In good faith, AshLin 03:19, 10 August 2007 (UTC)
Just a quick correction on WP:PLANTS; in all the discussions we've had about common name capitalization, I don't believe we've ever come to consensus. We have consensus on article naming guidelines - WP:NC (flora) - but not on the use of capitalization for common names in the text of articles. --Rkitko (talk) 12:44, 10 August 2007 (UTC)

Come on this a bit late, but just to point out that in Britain, there are official standard English names for plants, and they are capitalised: BSBI database (xls file), Government example, British Museum of Natural History example. - MPF 21:55, 9 August 2007 (UTC)

I support this general idea, and I imagine most people who write bird articles would too. I'm sorry I can't help ironing out the details with regard to plants, mammals, or butterflies and dragonflies, since I'm not familiar with those fields (except for having frequently seen capitalized Lepidoptera names).
One minor correction: Unfortunately, there isn't a single standard for bird names. The AOU has an official list of common names for North American birds (that is, south through Panama) and a draft for South American birds, but then there's the British Ornithologists' Union, the Handbook of the Birds of the World, the list that Sabine's Sunbird mentioned (way) above, Sibley and Monroe, Clements, the IUCN, and many others. These disagree on taxonomy, on the names of some species, and on style points related to hyphens (Fulvous Whistling-duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck), not to mention regional spelling (Gray/Grey-headed Gull). However, for a great many birds we have one common name or are close enough. —JerryFriedman 01:37, 11 August 2007 (UTC)

Motion to close

We've left this for several days, now, and I think it unlikely that someone may come out of the woodwork to object to the consensus we've reached. I'll leave it until tomorrow just in case there is someone who wishes to object. After that, in the absence of strenuous objections, I shall enshrine what we've agreed upon in the WP:MOS itself. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 03:03, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

Could we see the new text here first? I ask because this has been a matter of controversy, so the devil may be in the wording. Tony 03:14, 22 August 2007 (UTC)
I'm sorry. You are correct, of course. Here's the suggested wording:
"For the common names of flora and fauna, editors should write the name in lower case - for example "oak" or "lion". There are a limited number of exceptions to this:
1. Where the name is the first word of the sentence, it should be capitalised as any other word would be. For example "Black bears eat mostly leaves and berries"
2. Where the common name contains a proper noun, such as the name of a person or place. For example "the Bengal tiger has a range of over 500 km." or "the Roosevelt elk is a subspecies of Cervus canadensis."
3. For specific groups of organisms, there are specific rules of capitalization based on current and historic usage among those who study the organisms. These should ordinarily be followed:
4. In a very few cases, a set of officially-established common names are recognised only within a country or a geographic region. Those common names may be capitalised according to local custom but it should be understood that not all editors will have access to the references needed to support these names; in such cases, using the general recommendation is also acceptable."
Of course, other taxa, such as Lepidoptera, should feel free to add a link to their naming convention provided that it has been reached under demonstrable consensus. I believe this is a true reflection of the consensus reached in this discussion. — Dave (Talk | contribs) 03:41, 22 August 2007 (UTC)
From unseconded motion to consensus?[4] Is that the Wikipedia standard, and would someone link me to it, as I'm rather surprised. KP Botany 02:18, 24 August 2007 (UTC)
Okay, I give up. Really. I left the huge, four-week long discussion (which I didn't start) to sit for almost two weeks. No one posted. Then I posted a motion to close in the same thread as you and all the others posted various and numerous comments. I left it for a couple of days. Whatever. Revert it or do whatever you think is appropriate. I'm done with this. I give up... — Dave (Talk | contribs) 02:32, 24 August 2007 (UTC)
That's okay with me if you give up, as I'm fine with how things are going now. However, I'm willing to change if there is consensus to do so, and simply making a motion, getting no reponse, then changing, is not, imo, consensus. And, as I said before, extraneous comments from people who hate Wiki projects, and can't resist an opportunity to put them down, when these articles impacted by this change are largely written by people who work in Wiki projects, started this out badly, imo. So I'm not inclined to be particularly gracious about a change forced upon me by an editor who tells me he hates my editing Wikipedia. Why should I be? Consensus for change, imo, requires a positive act, not simply lack of response. KP Botany 06:29, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

Copy-edited and tweaked Tony

Looks good to me, but I've copy-edited it; first exception not necessary to state (just as the don't-alter-direct-quotations principle doesn't need stating here); I've added the consensus bit to the "specific rules" point; zeds required, coz MOS is in US English. Not quite sure that the meaning of the last exception is clear.

This should remain posted for a few days at least. I don't want to participate in the substantive debate (not interested and not qualified). I just want the language to be right and the solution to be workable and supported by a reasonable level of consensus.

  • Lower-case initials are used for the common names of flora and fauna (oak, lion.) There are three exceptions.
    • Where the common name contains a proper noun, such as the name of a person or place ("the Bengal tiger has a range of over 500 km2", "the Roosevelt elk is a subspecies of Cervus canadensis").
    • For some groups of organisms, there are specific rules of capitalization based on current and historic usage among those who study the organisms (e.g., WP:BIRD#Bird_names_and_article_titles). These should be followed unless there is conensus among contributors not to.
    • In some cases, a set of officially established common names are recognized only within a country or region. Those common names may be capitalized according to local custom, but not all editors will have access to the references needed to support these names; in such cases, using the general recommendation is also acceptable.

Feel free to argue, complain, suggest, improve. Tony 06:16, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

The last should be "In some cases," not "In a very few cases," because it's more common than most on Wikipedia seem to realize in some areas--and without a count, I would hesitate to go with "very few cases." For example, New Zealand establishes both Maori and English official common names for plants. KP Botany 06:29, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

The second point needs elaboration. First, I don't think plants should be left out just because they currently agree with this rule; both WP:MOS and WP:NC (flora) will evolve over time, and won't always agree. Second, although one couled cogently argue against a bulleted list of short phrases, I like the contribution of another editor who made the entries more explicit. I realize that this somewhat contradicts my first point. Thus:

    • For some groups of organisms, there are specific rules of capitalization based on current and historic usage among those who study the organisms. These should be followed unless there is consensus among contributors not to.
      • Names of plants are ordinarily not capitalized, except in the case of proper names (WP:NC (flora)).
      • Names of birds are ordinarily capitalized in all parts (WP:BIRD#Bird_names_and_article_titles).
      • Names of butterflies are ordinarily capitalized in all parts (butterfly link here).

--Curtis Clark 13:27, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

Common names of plants (at species level) in Australia (and many other countries) ordinarily *are* capitalised. Examples in Australia:
All of this discussion of what Australia does in its own official and local scientific organisation documents is of zero relevance here. The MoS is about what is done on Wikipedia, generally for consistency reasons, emphasis on consistency. We can't go around making exceptions like this. It's fine to make allowances for regional spelling (color/colour, aluminum/aluminium), but we don't make general grammar exceptions. Same goes for narrow fields making up their own internal grammar rules. If for some daft reason it became popular in scientific circles to start capitalizing "Science" and "Scientist" and "Scientific" like science was a religion, I'm 100% certain that the MoS would never permit this. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 18:08, 26 August 2007 (UTC)
PS: Apologies for suddenly disappearing from this debate after being so active in it (I think I even started the overarching thread in the first place...) Got very busy offline, then was ill for over a week. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 18:10, 26 August 2007 (UTC)
In order to conduct an informed debate, we need to be aware of the various conventions used across all fields and in all English-speaking countries. Every convention has relevance to the debate; the weighting that individuals give each of these conventions within this debate is up to them. --Melburnian 04:36, 27 August 2007 (UTC)
And, it's relevant because we don't conduct original research for Wikipedia. If there are official common names, we use them as they are, capitalized when they are, and not capitalized when they're not. We can't choose or invent a different rule just because someone doesn't like projects on Wikipedia. And it's not a general grammar exception--English grammar is not exactly the same in all English-speaking countries, and common names are within the realm of the country where the organism resides. The body for making rules for scientific names of plants is the ICBN for the case of species, a different body for horticultural varieties, and various countries do have rules for common names, for the names given by the people, of plants within their region.
New Zealand has official common names for plants, and I believe they are generally capitalized. If that is the case, they would be used as they are, precisely how they "officially" are, not changed on Wikipedia. The USA has no national standard for common names of plants, and, in fact, sometimes the same plant will be given different common names by the Forestry Service, than by the USDA, and by Fish and Wildlife--generally not capitalized, so American botanical editors prefer regional floras for common names of plants, and these are generally not capitalized.
That is what common names are, names given to plants by people within the region they share with the organisms. The rules for these plants, their capitalization or not, among other things, are also made by the people who share the region with plants. Some countries give official common names to plants, nation wide, like Germany. Others don't. When they give official common names, part of the rules may be for capitalizing the names. If this is the case and we can follow it, we do. If it's not the case, we don't.
We don't make up the rules. The whole point of Linnaeus adopting a standardized binomial nomenclature for organisms, and the reason there are organizations like the IAPT and its ICBN is that common names are not consistent from country to country, or even state to state, and that they're difficult for everyone to work with. There's no way we're going to be able to dictate away a problem that exists because of the fact that these are common names by simply desiring to standardize them where they're not standardized. If they were standardized they'd have an international governing body and be scientific names. But that's not what we're discussing here.
Wikipedia isn't the place to uniquely resolve problems that have existed unsolved for hundreds of years--that type of original research has to be resolved off of Wikipedia first.
KP Botany 04:53, 27 August 2007 (UTC)
This is hardly WP:OR; it's a simple style guide decision, and WP regularly makes such decisions about "centuries old" disputes, in the name of consistency and editor sanity, such as using "logical quotation", instead of "interior punctuation," like that. Let's not be silly. WP would not be declaring that the official (in what jurisdiction!?!) common name of the gray wolf is "gray wolf" instead of "Gray Wolf", it would simply be making a very basic and sensible decision to follow standard English grammar rules, just like any other publication. I guarantee you that the Times of London and the New York Times use "gray wolf" for precisely this reason; they are not in a position to adopt a wacky capitalization system just because some narrow field of zoology nerds has their own internal reasons for using it. And what on earth relevance can anyone possibly think that a government agency could have here? They mis-capitalize EVERYTHING. Here are two gems from today's mail alone: "City of Albuquerque Recycle[sic] Coupon...See back of coupon for Redemption Locations....Number of Recycle[sic] Bags: 001 roll(s)...Void if duplicated. No cash value. All Rights Reserved." And: "City of Albuquerque Animal Licensing...Return Service Requested....Service Dogs[a really salient example that one!]...Note: A $15 Late Fee is due if...outside the City Limits..." (emphasis added). Its completely bonkers to accept governmental...anything as indicative of grammatical standards, period. Honestly folks, I've never seen anything like "Gray Wolf" or "Creeping Wisteria" outside of biological publications and really infuriating Wikipedia articles. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 08:26, 27 August 2007 (UTC)
I think I agree. Tony 08:32, 27 August 2007 (UTC)
Another way of looking at it: If the international chemistry organization (whatever that might be) made a decision today to start capitalizing "Iron", "Gold" and "Neon", I'm sure their journals would adopt the custom, but even 200 years later no one else would have. Including Wikipedia. — SMcCandlish [talk] [cont] ‹(-¿-)› 08:40, 27 August 2007 (UTC)
So, you're offering headlines and advertisemens and notices as proof of what? How exactly are they related to common names of organisms? Are football headlines related also? I think not, so let's drop that line altogether.
Again, newspapers do things for ink and font reasons. That's why they generally no longer italicize species. Are you suggesting we take their guidance and also not italicize species? Again, newspapers are not the standard by which English sets style guidelines, so please don't offer them up, or fliers--which have an entirely different reason for their unsusual boldings and capitalizations which have nothing to do with this discussion.
As to what jurisdiction, that's easy, the jurisdiction for which the common name applies. That's what common names are, localized names for plants. If a jurisdiction wants to make them official, they do, and they can, because that's what they are, the names assigned to the plants by the people who deal with them.
While the rampant speculation about what other groups decisions might or might not be followed by whom is fun for those offering it, it has nothing to do with this discussion, either. KP Botany 03:45, 28 August 2007 (UTC)