Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Wednesday, November 01, 2023


Today the American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced they will change all the eponymous names of North American birds (like Cooper's Hawk, Wilson's Warbler, Bullock's Oriole, etc.) to non-honorific names. They've been talking about this for a couple of years, and began the process by re-christening the McCown's Longspur as the Thick-billed Longspur. It turned out that bird was named for a naturalist who had also been a general for the Confederacy and had fought in the Indian Wars. The idea behind these name-changes is that they will make ornithology a more welcoming field for groups that have been excluded for centuries. To this I say, "SERIOUSLY, AOS??? Is that the best you've got??!" It's true that American ornithology (along with the other sciences) has been the province of well-to-do white men for longer than the USA has been a nation, and those from other groups have been routinely excluded, but do you really think that renaming an obscure seed-eating bird is going to open more doors than...I don't know, maybe setting up a scholarship fund for the underprivileged or organizing ornithology field trips for low-income schoolkids? It seems the only real benefit to changing these names is inoculating the AOS from possible future charges of political incorrectness. In addition, all of these name changes will cause additional confusion during a period when a lot of names are already being changed to reflect a better understanding of how species are related to one another. The announcement can be seen here. americanornithology.org/about/english-bird-names-project/?


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