The group was aware that the moth Lymantria dispar’s common name was derogatory, and it received its first formal request to remove the moth’s name from its list in 2020, Mr. Stelzig said. The proposal went to the common names committee, which proposed revising its policies for acceptable common names. The committee also reached out to Romani scholars including Dr. Brooks, Magda Matache and Victoria Rios to hear their thoughts.
In March, the organization’s governing board approved those policies. In June, they elected to remove the pejorative names from the moth and the ant species. “They turned the recommendation around really quickly,” Ms. Smith said.
In the intervening months, staff at the Entomological Society put together the Better Common Names Project, a task force to review and replace offensive or inappropriate insect common names. The project plans to recruit community-driven working groups to propose new names, involving people who study the insects or are from or live in the region where the insects originated, Mr. Stelzig said. The project invites anyone to submit insect common names that should be changed.
In the past few years, many scientific fields have opened up conversations about renaming species with offensive common or scientific names, or even whole publications. In 2020, a scientific journal changed its name from Copeia — a name derived from the racist scientist Edward Cope — to Ichthyology and Herpetology. In 2020, a naming committee of the American Ornithological Society removed the name of a Confederate general from a bird, a proposal the committee initially rejected the year before.
Bird Names for Birds, a campaign to remove all eponymous names — such as Bachman’s sparrow, which is named after a white man who enslaved people — submitted a letter to the American Ornithological Society with more than 2,500 signatures in June 2020. In 2021, the society announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to look into nomenclatures.
Some birders, like Navin Sasikumar in Philadelphia, praised the Entomological Society’s “relatively swift” decision on the moth and ant, and said the group’s five-step process was a commendable way of changing common names.