Welcome to the American Ornithological Society (AOS) English Bird Names Blog.
Eponymous English bird names have been front and center in our minds these past months, and our member volunteers have been working to coordinate a community-informed response. We do not have firm answers yet to all of the questions that have arisen, but the AOS is unequivocally committed to finding collaborative solutions that promote inclusivity in ornithology and birding.
Our process has centered on working with the broader ornithological and birding communities to discuss the next steps forward. This strategy, with a universal and inclusive design in mind, requires an initial understanding of how diverse stakeholders within the ornithological and birding communities feel about the call to change eponymous names. As a first step, members of the AOS Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Committee conducted 12 listening sessions from September to November 2020 with more than 35 stakeholders across the ornithological and birding communities, including members of the Bird Names for Birds collective, to listen to and understand varying perspectives on English bird names.
In these sessions, the D&I Committee asked for stakeholders’ thoughts on the philosophy of names, the issues to be considered when changing them, and the effects of bird-name changes on key issues including research, recreation, management, and the publication of field guides. The Committee also wanted to learn how best to increase our awareness of the concerns of these stakeholders, to communicate these concerns back to the broader ornithological and birding community, and ultimately to guide our future actions on English common bird names from a platform of transparency and consistency.
That’s where this new AOS English Bird Names Blog comes in! We’ll use this blog to update our members and the broader community about the work of our nomenclature committees and ongoing progress by the Society regarding English bird names. If you’re interested in receiving updates or invitations to participate in our efforts, please subscribe to this blog using the available form. Subscription is free and open to everyone!
I detest eponyms and honorifics. Please give descriptive names to birds. Don’t name them after people! Thanks.
Why only descriptive names? What about birds named for often inappropriate places (Nashville Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Philadelphia Vireo, and on and on)? Purely descriptive names are boring and often misleading (e. g. Gray-tailed Tattler when BOTH tattlers have gray tails). The wonderfully evocative name Wandering Tattler tells you nothing of help in recognizing the bird when you see it, but it’s a marvelous name nevertheless. I happen to like some eponyms as much as Joe Ward detests them (Lewis’s Woodpecker, Clark’s Nutcracker) because they teach us history and context. Gray-collared Woodpecker and Gray Nutcracker just don’t do it for me. But Joe and I have to find a common language when we talk about birds. So that’s where we are today. By the way, while we’re at it, why not rename all those states with eponyms (Washington, Louisiana, Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland) or all those thousands of cities, towns, and counties named for people? Wouldn’t THAT be helpful?
Will ridding North America of eponymous common bird names actually cause any great uptake in birding by people who might justifiably be offended by them? Firstly, I question whether there really are many people who would like to go birding but don’t because of eponyms. Secondly, given that there is no intention to change scientific names, then eponyms will still be there in many bird’s names (80 -90 at least in North America) in every bird book that everyone opens. So surely, the folks that feel offended by eponyms will continue to be so, making the whole exercise a bit pointless?
I don’t know why the AOS has a committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the first place. Its statement “that continuing to use harmful English names in ornithology unfairly demands tolerance from already marginalized people, creating an unnecessary barrier to the field of ornithology with clear downstream effects felt at multiple levels of our ornithological community” could be a parody of earnest sophomores in the Political Science Department.
I very much agree with Peter John Roberts. Renaming all birds named after people is a lot of chasing rainbows for no real practical purpose, in my view. Also, there is no end to this. Where would you stop, as he so aptly points out? Then, why stop at birds? There are many, many plants with common names that include people’s names. Even some of the descriptive names, such as red-bellied woodpecker, rather than red-naped woodpecker, and common yellowthroat, rather than black-masked warbler, will not really help anyone ID the bird. Would it not be better to just leave common names alone rather than totally upsetting the apple cart and make all the bird guides obsolete and have everyone learn new names for a hundred-plus birds? It seems there are a lot more important issues to face, including things that would really make birding more open to all persons. Are bird names really that big an issue?