common names of fishes

Barry Roth barryr at UCMP1.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Jun 5 10:04:03 CDT 1995

Karsten Hartel <hartel at MCZ.HARVARD.EDU> wrote:

>As pointed out earlier, the common names of fishes can be very confusing
>especially if a non-ichthyologist is trying to guess at relationships.
>Bass, perch, chubs are common examples that have many uses that cross
>family and order.
>for North Americans I would point out that the "standard" reference is:
>Robins et al. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United
>States and Canada. 5th Ed. Special Publication American Fisheries Society
>No. 20. 183pp.

How many of the names in this work are actual records of vernacular names
used by non-taxonomists and how many are coinages by taxonomists in the
interest of having a standard English-language name list?  The parallel
volume on mollusks, with with I am more familiar (Turgeon, D.D., et al.
1988.  Common and scientific names of aquatic invertebrates from the United
States and Canada:  Mollusks.  1st ed.  AFS Special Publication 16.  [2nd
edition in preparation]) is heavily weighted toward the latter.

Understandably, few of the 900 or so land mollusks of the U.S. and Canada
had "real-world" vernacular names; the committee provided common names (that
is, names in the "common" language) for agencies and others who require them.

>                  However, even with this work which has been revised very
>10 years, one can find problems and phylogentic relationships may not be
>accurately reflected (see review by Leis and Paxton, Copeia 1993(1):245-
>248.  But its a highly followed starting point.

It is not, nor should it be, the goal of the mollusk common names list to
reflect phylogenetic relationships.  The names are designed to be "handles"
for taxonomic concepts, not statements about consanguineity.  Even Linnean
nomenclature is not up to that task (although the rules that require the
first term of a Linnean binomen -- the "genus" name -- to change when a
species is assigned to a different genus attempt to track the lowest level
of phylogenetic relationship).  In the sense that it is more nearly free
from classificational/taxonomic "baggage," the common name list might,
paradoxically, be the preferable source for names to use when designating
terminal taxa for phylogenetic analysis.

 Barry Roth                             barryr at
 Research Associate, Museum of Paleontology
 University of California, Berkeley, CA 94117 USA   (415) 387-8538

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