A tiny handful of common names are so prevalent that we all know what we're talking about. The Hendricksons are always Ephemerella subvaria, the Brown Drakes are always Ephemera simulans, and a few other lucky species sport 1-to-1 common names. But beyond those few, the common names are just too confusing, and not only because they apply to several species.

Common Misnomers

One alleged saving grace of common names is that they are descriptive. But their descriptions are just as often misleading as they are useful, and they lead to fly patterns which poorly match the natural.

For example:

  • Blue-winged olives have gray wings and bodies ranging from olive to bright green to gray to brown.

  • Anthopotamus distinctus, the Cream Dun, is a vivid yellow drake. Ephemera varia, the Yellow Drake, has cream white duns.

  • Paraleptophlebia adoptiva, Blue Quill, is often gray or brown.

  • Most Red Quills are brown.

  • The White Flies of Ephoron have creamy off-white bodies and light gray wings, but most imitations are whiter than a bleached albino polar bear.

Common names have very little value as descriptions when most of them are wrong.

The Long-Winded Yellow-Bellied Northern Common Name

Some authors have taken avoidance of Latin to the extreme, giving species a unique common name so that we don't need the scientific name to distinguish between them. For instance, one recent book presents Ephemerella invaria
as the Large Eastern Sulphur and Ephemerella dorothea as the Miniature Eastern Sulphur.

Sometimes, they add even more features beyond size and color to a name in order to make a distinction in the common name between two similar species. If this continues, soon books will be calling things names like Small East-Central Pennsylvanian Big-Eyed Late June Morning And Sometimes Evening Except on Tuesdays or Bingo Night Blue-Winged Olive. The acronyms for these abominations will be longer than the Latin names.

This tinkering just adds to the confusion. Nobody calls these flies by the lengthy common names from the latest book. It is commendable to try to call each species by a distinct name, for clarity... but we already have something for that! The scientific names.

Lengthy, invented common names are a mouthful and they just increase confusion--they're the worst of the worst of both worlds!