Public domainThe thick-billed ice bunting, formerly named after General John McCown
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 03:46
American bird watchers have to look for about eighty new bird names. The American Ornithological Society (AOS) believes it is outdated to name animals after people and is therefore taking action.
The decision was prompted by complaints about birds named after racist or colonial people. For example, the famous nature lover John James Audubon lent his name to a shearwater, but his family also kept slaves. The McCown’s ice bunting was previously renamed the thick-billed ice bunting because, in addition to being a birdwatcher, John McCown was also a general of the racist Southern states in the American Civil War.
“There can be so much power in a name and some bird names in English evoke associations with a past that still excludes and hurts people today,” reasons AOS chairman Colleen Handel. “While anyone who loves birds should be able to enjoy them without any worries.”
More objective names
The AOS says it is not feasible to weigh the reputation of all namesakes one by one. It was therefore decided to delete all eponyms.
This also does the animals more justice, according to the AOS: it is more objective and therefore more scientific to choose a name based on appearance or habitat, instead of one that refers to who, for example, happens to be known as the discoverer. Not to mention the fact that these often involved white men who saw their names immortalized.
“These types of exclusionary names, invented in the 19th century and full of racism and misogyny, are no longer acceptable today,” the AOS believes. “It is time to reform this process and put the focus back on the birds, where it belongs.”
The AOS plans to set up a pilot next year, for which the public’s help is also being sought. The AOS then also plans to look at names that occur in Latin America.