About sea slug names

November 2, 2001
From: Jun Imamoto

Dear Bill.
There is a question about sea slug names. A scientific name is being used in the Forum because this is thought to be a universal name used throughout the world. In Japan we also have a Japanese name as well as the scientific name.

For example:
Chromodoris orientalis is called shiro-umiushi.
Elysia ornata is called konoha-midorigai.

But, there is a problem with these japanese names because there does not seem to be an organisation managing their use. This has lead to alternative 'Japanese names' being used. Is there a name other than the scientific name in Australia?

How are they managed if it is here? I am very interested in hearing your reply.
Best Regards,
Jun Imamoto


Imamoto, J., 2001 (Nov 2) About sea slug names . [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from http://www.seaslugforum.net/find/5561

Dear Jun,
An interesting question. I have often wondered if there was some organisation which controlled or supervised the system of 'Japanese names' which has developed in Japan. As far as I know Japan is the only country that has developed this custom of giving a 'Japanese name' to species when they are first described.

In general, there are two types of common names which can be called 'Real' common names and 'Artificial' common names:
Real Common Names are names that local people have used for an animal which is part of their local environment - something they eat, use for decoration, see all the time, etc. These names may have existed long before scientific names were invented. While such names are useful locally they can cause major problems nationally and worldwide. Fish are an excellent example of this. In Australia there may be 20 different common names used in different places for the same species of fish, and sometimes the same common name is used in different parts of Australia for different species of fish. So no-one knows what they are talking about when they buy & sell fish throughout the country. And the problems are even greater when Australians export fish to Europe, because many Australian names are derived from English names for quite different species of fish.
This is why scientific names are so useful. An animal can have only one scientific name and it has worldwide currency. As well as being a 'name' it also gives us a short summary of the evolutionary history of the animal as well. In animals like opisthobranchs there are very few true 'common names' anywhere in the world. Apart from 'Sea Hare' (Aplysia spp) and 'Spanish Dancer' (Hexabranchus sanguineus) there are not many names in common daily use for opisthobranchs.
Artificial Common Names
When you look at an identification guide book you will usually find there are 'common names' for all species. These are nonsense names - often no more than a bad translation of the scientific name. Why publishers and authors do this I have no idea - I guess they think their readers will be more comfortable with 'English names' but I think this is insulting to their readers who are quite capable of learning scientific names. I don't know if dinosaurs are popular with kids in Japan, but certainly in Australia most kids can tell you the long scientific names of their favourite dinosaurs. So if kids have no problem with these names why should adults?

I hope I haven't moved too far from your question, but I think manufactured common names are confusing and unnecessary. I would be interested to know whether it is a problem to write scientific names in the Japanese alphabet? If so perhaps this would explain the tradition of 'Japanese names'.
Best wishes,
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 2001 (Nov 2). Comment on About sea slug names by Jun Imamoto. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from http://www.seaslugforum.net/find/5561

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