View from Sapsucker Woods: What’s in a Identify?


It’s a giant second in ornithology. On November 1, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) introduced the historic resolution to change the English names of birds  at the moment named after an individual (“eponymous” chook names), and to interact the general public in choosing the brand new names. 

The plan is to make use of a phased method, beginning with a pilot train after which specializing in 70 to 80 species within the U.S. and Canada first. The AOS at the moment maintains authoritative chook checklists for North, Central, and South America. Past the U.S. and Canada inside this purview, the AOS will work with ornithological societies in these areas to grasp deal with chook names. There are 152 species with eponymous names at the moment on the listing of birds decided by the AOS North American Classification Committee and 111 decided by the South American Classification Committee, so about 5.5% of the species within the area. 

AOS’s prime motive for the adjustments is to attempt to make birds and birdwatching open and welcoming to as many individuals as doable. The rationale is threefold: some chook names are deemed offensive or exclusionary due to the actions of the individuals they’re named after; it’s going to be extraordinarily troublesome to attain consensus on precisely which particular person ought to or shouldn’t have a chook named after them; so it’s higher to maneuver away from eponymous names altogether. The AOS additionally factors out that this train offers an opportunity to provide birds names which are extra helpful in indicating how they give the impression of being or sound, the place they dwell, or perhaps a attribute habits. 

I’m supportive of AOS’s resolution and agree with that logic. I’m additionally happy to see the phased method, and notably the dedication to work with regional ornithological societies to grasp deal with any adjustments to names outdoors the U.S. and Canada. The identical discussions are taking place for different teams of organisms, so I’m proud the birdwatching group is courageous sufficient to be the primary to tackle the problem.

a small bird with a brilliant orange throat perches on a brancha small bird with a brilliant orange throat perches on a branch
The Blackburnian Warbler was named after Anna Blackburne, an 18th-century English naturalist. Picture by Matt Felperin / Macaulay Library.

On the identical time, I’m keenly conscious that individuals really feel a powerful attachment to sure species names. I think I’ll pine a little bit for Blackburnian Warbler—sure, it’s eponymous!—though I can simply see the appeal of one thing like Hearth-throated Warbler. The choice to alter eponymous chook names can really feel culturally or politically charged, as nicely, which some individuals will possible see as a distraction, particularly at a time of such conservation want. Furthermore, most of the species additionally happen in different geographic areas, the place it’s not but clear how renaming will likely be perceived. It’s going to be essential to hearken to completely different views, and respect the views of fellow birdwatchers, even once we don’t agree with one another. 

From the angle of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we’re wanting ahead to getting concerned in what seems set to be a giant, thrilling marketing campaign to pick out the brand new names for U.S. and Canadian species. I’m hoping we’ll find yourself with a number of names as evocative because the Shining Sunbeam, a surprising hummingbird of the Andes. As soon as they’ve been decided, we plan to make use of the brand new names in American English-language variations of our platforms like Merlin, eBird, All About Birds, and Birds of the World. We already assist about 100 units of widespread names , and we replace our taxonomy every year, so we’re nicely positioned to assist the adjustments. To accommodate worldwide variations, we will proceed to defer to regional naming authorities on which widespread names to make use of. We’re additionally fascinated by methods to assist individuals with the adjustments as they roll out, as a result of though we’re all used to occasional adjustments in a number of chook names, that is an unprecedented variety of species. 

Birds are distinctive of their capacity to carry individuals collectively. I strongly imagine we should always use this as a chance to get much more individuals occupied with birds, and to exhibit that birdwatchers are critical about breaking down boundaries. In constructing a motion for nature, we want the largest doable tent by way of the individuals concerned. Let’s be daring and embrace this chance to make the tent even larger. 

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