Guidelines and protocols - English names for fungi

A working party was formed in 2005 to review English names of fungi, following the publication of the Checklist of the British and Irish Basidiomycota (CBIB).  The agreed process for reviewing and assigning names is outlined below.

Working party: A working party should be maintained to consider and manage any changes and additions to the existing published list of English names and the associated protocol and guidelines (normally on an annual basis). This should be an informal email group with one person as the co-ordinator. The existence of this group should be made known to the field mycology community so that suggestions can be sent to the co-ordinator.
Wider consultation: The working party’s annual recommendations should be placed on a BMS webpage clearly marked as ‘draft names for consultation only’ and with a built in date at which time the page automatically removes itself from the site. Comments should be sent to the working party co-ordinator and circulated to the working party before final recommendations are published.
Publication of newly accepted names: Once finally accepted, the new English names should be published on the BMS Website and passed on to the web based Checklist through the FRDBI manager.
Master Lists: Create and maintain Master Lists of Scientific to English and English to Scientific with audit trail of changes and additions. This will normally be done by the working party co-ordinator in consultation with the members of the working party.
BMS Web page: Maintain and update the BMS webpage containing the reference list as given in the original Plantlife publication ‘Recommended English Names for Fungi’ Plantlife International 2003, as necessary. The information can be made available to other websites by request.


Guidelines for the creation of new names

These guidelines are based on those used during the original 2003 exercise:

In general:

  • Consideration was given to the suggestion that an English name should be created for every Scientific named genus. The creation of this list of names is not, however, an attempt to recreate taxonomic distinctions in English. Given the current fluid nature of taxonomy, this process would not seem to be appropriate, as the English names would constantly need updating. Thus, whilst existing genera have been used as a basis for distinction in many cases, it seems appropriate to use shared morphological distinctions in others.
  • Only one English name should be recommended for each species.
  • Where appropriate, and particularly where they have become familiar, existing English names should be accepted or accepted with minor modification only. Whenever a new ‘grouping’ name is created, care should be taken not to use one that will make future naming difficult.
  • Always check a proposed new name against the Master List for existing English names.
  • Always check current checklists for most up to date Scientific names.
  • Consideration should be given to the English names adopted by other English speaking countries to avoid potential inconsistency and confusion. For instance if an English name is adopted in Australia for a British fungus that grows in Australia but has not yet been named in Britain. See also under ‘Sources of inspiration’ below.
  • Care should be taken not to introduce names for poisonous species that could imply edibility.
  • Rusts, Smuts, Powdery Mildews and Downy Mildews should generally take on the English name of their host plant. It has been accepted that although applying to the holotype, many of these names will refer to the most obvious or most well known phase of the life cycle and that the name will often appear inappropriate for other phases. Care should be taken that the name refers to the fungus rather than any disease that the fungus might cause although this is not always clear particularly amongst the rusts and smuts. As for other fungi, established English names should be applied where appropriate.
  • Every attempt should be made to make the names distinctive and lively in order to engage public interest. The names should avoid too many negative associations.
  • A degree of flexibility and subjectivity is necessary to make a success of a project of this nature. Exceptions to the guidelines, however, should be justified.

In particular:

  • A binominal system for each recommended English name generally allows a degree of descriptive flexibility without becoming unwieldy. Thus the majority of names in the published list are composed of two words; loosely, an adjective (for individual species) written first and a noun (for genus or distinguishing character) in second place.
  • Wherever possible the use of hyphens and superfluous words such as ‘The’, ‘A’, ‘Fungus’ and ‘Toadstool’ should be avoided.
  • Wherever possible the mixing of Scientific and English names should be avoided
  • Limited anglicising of Scientific words can be acceptable e.g. Bolete from Boletus and Polypore from Polyporus
  • The melding of two words into one is acceptable in some instances, e.g. Wax Cap becomes Waxcap and Ink Cap becomes Inkcap. This effectively streamlines potentially cumbersome phrases and assists Web searches by targeting the search more efficiently.
  • The use of ‘paragoges’ where adding a syllable to an existing word, for example ‘Grey’ and ‘ling’ to make ‘Greyling’, is very useful. This can have the effect of subtly enhancing the meaning of the word thus ‘Greyling’ suggests something small and grey (Huhtinen, 2002).
  • Ease of spelling should also been taken into account.
  • The use of capitals for the English name in published texts will be to an extent determined by the publisher. The published RENF list in 2003 used capitals, e.g. Anise Mazegill.

Sources of inspiration:

  • Inspiration should be drawn from a wide range of sources to assist with the creation and adaptation of names. Meaning derived from the original Scientific name can be utilised particularly when a relevant English word reflects the sound and meaning of the Scientific, thus acting as an ’aide memoire’.
  • Species descriptions have particularly relied on colour, growing mode and shape but words describing texture, taste, smell, host, habitat and edibility should also be utilised.
  • Word play has also been possible on occasion and provides one of the best means of reflecting British culture.
  • Reference should be made to names used in other countries, although the names originating in a different cultural context will not necessarily be appropriate in the British context. There are also differences in the construction of words – in some languages one word can only be translated into two or more English words. Limited use of foreign names, where they have become well-established in the English language, can be acceptable, e.g. Chanterelle and Grisette.


Guidelines on dealing with taxonomic changes to fungi with accepted English names

Scientific names should only be re-assessed following publication of an appropriate checklist, or in exceptional circumstances where the conservation status of the species might be compromised (e.g. Sarcodon imbricatus / S. squamosus).

In most cases it should not be necessary to amend, create or make a decision about the priority of an English name and only the Scientific will need to be changed.


  • Where one species with an accepted English name is split into two with new Scientific species names e.g. Boletus junquilleus now split into B. pseudosulphureus and B. luridiformis var. dicolor – neither of the new names have an accepted English name but both are proposed for the new Red List and so English names will be needed. If we assume that the fungus keeps the English name, the new species most commonly found under the old name could take the English name. Thus B. pseudosulphureus would take Yellow Bolete and a new name would have to be found for B. luridiformis var. dicolor.
  • Where two species both with approved English names are lumped together under the Scientific name of one of them, then the English name of that species should take priority, particularly if that is the commoner and more well known species, e.g. Tubaria hiemalis Winter Twiglet and T. furfuracea Scurfy Twiglet. T. hiemalis has been included under T. furfuracea in the 2005 Basidiomycota Checklist. Scurfy Twiglet therefore has precedence. The Scientific and English names of the ‘lost’ species should be deleted from the Web document but maintained in the audit trail of the Master Lists. The English name of the ‘lost’ species should not be reallocated to any other species.
  • Where a genuine mistake is made in the publishing process, e.g. Schizophyllum commune was given the agreed English name Splitgill. An error late in the editing process lead to the English name Common Porecrust being erroneously applied.
  • Where common vernacular usage adopts an English name different from the official one.

Liz Holden (20 April 2008)