The family Charadriidae was introduced by the English zoologist William Elford Leach in a guide to the contents of the British Museum published in 1820. Most members of the family are known as plovers, lapwings or dotterels. These were rather vague terms which were not applied with any great consistency in the past. In general, larger species have often been called lapwings, smaller species plovers or dotterels and there are in fact two clear taxonomic sub-groups: most lapwings belong to the subfamily Vanellinae, most plovers and dotterels to Charadriinae.
The trend in recent years has been to rationalise the common names of the Charadriidae. For example, the large and very common Australian bird traditionally known as the ‘spur-winged plover’, is now the masked lapwing; the former ‘sociable plover’ is now the sociable lapwing.