Citing a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, the Entomological Society of American said that the “Asian giant hornet,” most commonly referred to as the “murder hornet,” will now be named the “northern giant hornet.”
“Amid a rise in hate crimes and discrimination against people of Asian descent, usage of ‘Asian’ in the name of a pest insect can unintentionally bolster anti-Asian sentiment,” the organization said in a statement.
The group’s president Jessica Ware added that the new name serves two purposes.
“Common names are an important tool for entomologists to communicate with the public about insects and insect science,” she said. “Northern giant hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, and it avoids evoking fear or discrimination.”
She noted the “murder hornets” aren’t actually native to Asia, so the name didn’t make much sense in the first place.
“‘Asian giant hornet’ does not convey unique information about the biology or behavior of the species,” the society’s statement read.
At best, the previous common name for the species is “a neutral and uninformative adjective, potentially a distraction from more salient characters of the organism, and at worst a racist trope,” said Chris Looney, entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture who authored the name change proposal.
“I don’t want my Asian American or Pacific Islander colleagues, friends and family to have any negative connotations with invasive or pest species that might be used against them in a negative way,” Ware said.
In 2021, the ESA updated its guidelines to state that scientists can change common insect names if they refer to ethnic or racial groups or may cause fear.
Ware encouraged people to submit a request to the Better Common Names Project if there is an insect name they believe should be changed.