A statement on removing harmful common species names from MITPPC communications
July 21, 2021
Through our research, the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center (MITPPC) drives discoveries to prevent or reduce threats posed by priority invasive species. This process innately involves the use of both common and scientific (Latin) species names.
However, since scientific associations first started tracking common species names in databases, science—both as a practice and as a community—has evolved. Not only has new research shed light on the common species names that include incorrect or inappropriate geographic references, but there are still many common species names in circulation that neglect the names used by indigenous communities and/or use harmful slurs. If the practice of using common species names truly aims to engage new or lay audiences, those names cannot be inaccurate, racist, or otherwise problematic and alienating.
The MITPPC will be looking to professional and scientific organizations, such as the Entomological Society of America (ESA), for guidance on rolling out accessible, inclusive, non-harmful common names across our communication platforms. For insects, this will include referring to the progress made by the ESA’s Better Common Names Project. We will also follow similar recommendations for other groups of organisms (e.g., plants) as they arise.
As one recent example, the moth Lymantria dispar and the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides each have common names that include a derogatory term for the Romani people. Per the ESA website, “In June, the ESA Governing Board elected to remove the common names for both species from the ESA Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms List.”
The ESA website also states that the organization “is creating a volunteer group to propose a new common name for L. dispar, which would then be made available for ESA member comment and subject to approval by the ESA Committee on Insect Common Names and the ESA Governing Board. In the meantime, ESA encourages people to refer to the insects by their Latin names.”
We at the MITPPC have begun removing these species’ common names and replacing them with their Latin names across our communications channels. This will be an ongoing process that will continue until a new common name is selected for these two species. At that time, we will replace the Latin names with their new common names. This will be our approach for all common species names deemed problematic going forward.
To start, we encourage our community of supporters and stakeholders to:
Email Carolyn Bernhardt, communications specialist, at [email protected] if you see the common names of L. dispar or A. araneoides on any of MITPPC’s communications channels (and please include a link or screenshot of the instance you find in your email);
Submit insect names to the ESA that you think need changing;
Join us in pivoting away from common names that perpetuate harm.