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AOS community forum on English Bird Names (1 Viewer)

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Hello everyone.

For those interested, here is the youtube link for the above forum:


"The American Ornithological Society’s (AOS) Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Committee hosted a virtual AOS Community Congress on English Bird Names on 16 April 2021 to open a discussion on the complex issues around eponymous English bird names to the wider ornithological and birding communities to promote an even greater awareness of the complexities of name changes for constructive dialogue moving forward.

In this Community Congress, participants learned about the views of various stakeholders regarding name changes, the challenges for specific organizations in implementing change, and the opportunities these stakeholders identify at this moment for our community. The discussion was facilitated by José González of The Avarna Group."

I will caution that the forum is 2 hours, and quite dry in the beginning. However it does have a variety of important folks involved, including people from the IOC, ABA, Ebird/Cornell, several field guide authors, and other relevant stake-holders. I think its important to share because birders should be informed of changes to common names that are almost certainly going to happen in the next year. If you have brilliant replacements now might be the time to share them online.

For those wishing discussion, the moderators deleted the first thread, and have promised to lock this to future comments as soon as its noticed due to issues. So I guess feel free to message me or find some other forum to chat about this. I have complicated thoughts on that decision that I will leave off this thread to maintain to maintain neutrality.
 

Mono

Hi!
Staff member
Supporter
Europe
Have just found the time to listen to it all. I didn't get any sense of hostility to the central idea, the feeling from the more "old school" establishment birders was "bird names change; we can cope; if it is going to be done get on with it". If naming birds, or any other organisms, after people is to go then just do it don't make it about assessing the merit or worthiness of the individual just change them all.

A good point was the "one step removed" naming, where a bird is named after a geographical feature that was named after a person.
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
What I don't understand is why my first thread was deleted. Aren't debates like this kind of the point of forums like this? They can get out of hand sometimes obviously, but the first thread I created never did and I think as long as we don't call anyone names discussions like this can be perfectly fine, and in fact should be encouraged.
 
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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
For those wishing discussion, the moderators deleted the first thread, and have promised to lock this to future comments as soon as its noticed due to issues. So I guess feel free to message me or find some other forum to chat about this. I have complicated thoughts on that decision that I will leave off this thread to maintain to maintain neutrality.
Ditto.
 

Mono

Hi!
Staff member
Supporter
Europe
I don't think there is any need for anyone to absent themselves from the thread. There maybe a need for people to keep to the topic and to discuss the points rather than giving things they oppose pejorative labels.

On the subject, it is clear that some people within and without the birding community find certain bird names offensive. These are mainly birds named after people. The proposal is therefore to change the English language common names (in the USA) of all birds named after people. It is not a witch hunt of particular individuals it would apply to all people. I don't really see a downside, the current names add nothing to the identity of the bird in question. Any continuing discussions of the origins of the name of the bird risk being a distraction to discussions and issues surrounding the bird itself. The meeting panel contained eminent guidebook writers and the maintainers of the principal US bird databases and they all stated that any changes would be easy to implement and did not forsee any problems.

I would be interested in hearing reasons people may have for keeping the status quo.
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
I would be interested in hearing reasons people may have for keeping the status quo.
Birders don’t seem to understand how amazing it is that we have official common names for every species. It allows new birders (or even long time birders who don’t want to learn about scientific names) to be able to talk about any bird species and have any other birder know what they are talking species they are talking about (assuming the other birder had heard of the species before). If we change all of these bird names, then this can’t happen. New birders will get field guides like Sibley or Peterson and find out that half of the names in the guides aren’t what the birding community is using, and this may cause many of them to stop birding altogether (I know if this had happened when I began birding I would have done that). In a time when birding is less popular than ever before and birds are in trouble more than ever before, that’s quite a dangerous thing to do.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I mean...even if you don't change names for the reasons given, field guides, at least in the ABA area, are destined to be obsolete anyway in a few years, given taxonomic changes resulting in splits, lumps, changes in checklist order, addition of new exotics, changing vagrancy patterns and distributions, etc.

Don't get me wrong...disinterest in learning new names is a valid reason to be hesitant, as well as worry over confusion. I still find myself using moorhen rather than gallinule, and I have to mentally expend effort to say Myrtle versus Yellow-rumped, although I know that is not official yet.

I am very suspicious birders would quit the hobby itself...they would still have all their older field guides, which will continue to be printed until the next edition change. They might quit organizations that support the change (ABA), or stop ebirding. Although I would be curious how many folks quit when Hawaii was added, and at this point I think ebird is just too alluring and useful a tool to easily give up for a lot of folks, what with all of the alerts which really only work if you are entering data. I'd also be curious what the effect of the notorious 1973 AOU checklist update was, which resulted in a massive lump of many species and and a lot of name changes as well if I recall. That's the closest analogy to the proposed situation
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
I mean...even if you don't change names for the reasons given, field guides, at least in the ABA area, are destined to be obsolete anyway in a few years, given taxonomic changes resulting in splits, lumps, changes in checklist order, addition of new exotics, changing vagrancy patterns and distributions, etc.

Don't get me wrong...disinterest in learning new names is a valid reason to be hesitant, as well as worry over confusion. I still find myself using moorhen rather than gallinule, and I have to mentally expend effort to say Myrtle versus Yellow-rumped, although I know that is not official yet.

I am very suspicious birders would quit the hobby itself...they would still have all their older field guides, which will continue to be printed until the next edition change. They might quit organizations that support the change (ABA), or stop ebirding. Although I would be curious how many folks quit when Hawaii was added, and at this point I think ebird is just too alluring and useful a tool to easily give up for a lot of folks, what with all of the alerts which really only work if you are entering data. I'd also be curious what the effect of the notorious 1973 AOU checklist update was, which resulted in a massive lump of many species and and a lot of name changes as well if I recall. That's the closest analogy to the proposed situation
I don't think there's much of a chance of existing birders quitting - but I know if I was beginning birding right now and saw that none of the names in my field guide matched eBird I would strongly consider quitting, or at the very least "scale back" my birding. Me quitting eBird over this is an entirely possible situation, however - I can't learn 113 new names for birds I already know (113 is the number of birds named after a person currently on the ABA checklist).
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I don't think there's much of a chance of existing birders quitting - but I know if I was beginning birding right now and saw that none of the names in my field guide matched eBird I would strongly consider quitting, or at the very least "scale back" my birding. Me quitting eBird over this is an entirely possible situation, however - I can't learn 113 new names for birds I already know (113 is the number of birds named after a person currently on the ABA checklist).
But realistically those are spread out over all the ABA area, and also include vagrants which may not change. As a person that lives in Wisconsin, by my quick count only 11 species I regularly encounter would be effected by these changes. And a few of these are species whose names may end up changing anyway due to future splits.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
I don't think there is any need for anyone to absent themselves from the thread. There maybe a need for people to keep to the topic and to discuss the points rather than giving things they oppose pejorative labels.

On the subject, it is clear that some people within and without the birding community find certain bird names offensive.
These are mainly birds named after people. The proposal is therefore to change the English language common names (in the USA) of all birds named after people. It is not a witch hunt of particular individuals it would apply to all people. I don't really see a downside, the current names add nothing to the identity of the bird in question. Any continuing discussions of the origins of the name of the bird risk being a distraction to discussions and issues surrounding the bird itself. The meeting panel contained eminent guidebook writers and the maintainers of the principal US bird databases and they all stated that any changes would be easy to implement and did not forsee any problems.

I would be interested in hearing reasons people may have for keeping the status quo.
1. Ironic really that some people feel unable to comment here for just this reason, there's a long history on threads like this of labels being attached to dissenters.

2. Maybe but in the main, the offended people seem decidedly 'pale' as evidenced by the make up of the panel at the AOS congress which was blindingly white. I genuinely would have a lot less issue with this, if, it were, minority groups who were instigating it, nobody wants to deliberately offend. Instead of a panel such as the one gathered, why didn't they present half a dozen ethnic minority people to explain the need for change and how they, personally feel offended by any particular name, I'm sure that would have been more impactful.

3. People are terrified of saying the wrong thing and getting cancelled which in some cases (authors, those will college affiliations and a few others where pressure could be brought to bear) means loss of livelihood so they sit there, nodding along, not daring to say anything contentious. During that assembly, at times it was like being at some alternative lifestyle retreat e.g when the moderator said 'OK, some great words and opinions (none dissenting of course) and I'm just going to take a moment for those words to 'inhabit this space'.

This panel had undoubtedly been vetted beforehand, to make sure people were going to say what was required of them, it would have been far more credible if they had invited any known dissenters for a balanced debate because that is not what this was, it was basically, a party poitical broadcast.

Edit: The 'eminent' panel, authors and list keepers, aware no doubt of the fine line they were walking and how very easy it would be to fall to their scholarly death by cancellation, all, carefully avoided making personal comments on the reason for the changes and as pointed out by Mono, concentrated purely, on the practical aspects of implementing the changes.

As for quitting birding, I'd probably draw the line at not buying anymore field guides, this doesn't just affect Americans.

Other than this post which will probably get removed, I'm going to stay out of this now, as many already have and will, but silence does not imply validation or agreement.
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
1. Ironic really that some people feel unable to comment here for just this reason, there's a long history on threads like this of labels being attached to dissenters.

2. Maybe but in the main, the offended people seem decidedly 'pale' as evidenced by the make up of the panel at the AOS congress which was blindingly white. I genuinely would have a lot less issue with this, if, it were, minority groups who were instigating it, nobody wants to deliberately offend. Instead of a panel such as the one gathered, why didn't they present half a dozen ethnic minority people to explain the need for change and how they, personally feel offended by any particular name, I'm sure that would have been more impactful.

3. People are terrified of saying the wrong thing and getting cancelled which in some cases (authors, those will college affiliations and a few others where pressure could be brought to bear) means loss of livelihood so they sit there, nodding along, not daring to say anything contentious. During that assembly, at times it was like being at some alternative lifestyle retreat e.g when the moderator said 'OK, some great words and opinions (none dissenting of course) and I'm just going to take a moment for those words to 'inhabit this space'.

This panel had undoubtedly been vetted beforehand, to make sure people were going to say what was required of them, it would have been far more credible if they had invited any known dissenters for a balanced debate because that is not what this was, it was basically, a party poitical broadcast.

Edit: The 'eminent' panel, authors and list keepers, aware no doubt of the fine line they were walking and how very easy it would be to fall to their scholarly death by cancellation, all, carefully avoided making personal comments on the reason for the changes and as pointed out by Mono, concentrated purely, on the practical aspects of implementing the changes.

As for quitting birding, I'd probably draw the line at not buying anymore field guides, this doesn't just affect Americans.

Other than this post which will probably get removed, I'm going to stay out of this now, as many already have and will, but silence does not imply validation or agreement.
There seems to be a lot of unfair speculation on motivations...that some of the folks on the panel said what they did out of fear or that only people who would agree with everything were chosen. No one forced anyone here to be on the panel. If there was an actual fear of cancellation (which I seriously doubt), they could have just not participated. "Fear of cancellation" has become a bogeyman for folks of certain political persuasions which is incredibly overstated. It's feels its much more straightforward to just assume the participants agree with the overall message of the forum.

As for membership, you have the choice of choosing individuals effected by the current names or disproving of them, or the people who would be in charge of the implementation of the names. Since the upper echelons of ornithology and birding are disproportionately white and male pretty much prevents you from doing both. I personally appreciated that they brought in people representing IOC, ABA, Ebird/Clements, several major bird conservation groups, several prominent field guide authors, and bird-banding networks. As those are folks who can actually speak of issues with implementation. I only personally know a few birders who are also POC, but all of them support the changes.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
One more thing: as of yet, I have heard this suggestion at the moment only for American species (with eventual consideration of Africa and perhaps Asia).

While the question didn't come up, I presume that vagrants from the old world will be left as is. Also, Britain has comparatively few actual birds with patronyms in their names. As far as birds often encountered, it's what...two storm petrels? Whose names may need to be changed anyway. So really this will be mostly effecting birders on this side of the pond.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
There seems to be a lot of unfair speculation on motivations...that some of the folks on the panel said what they did out of fear or that only people who would agree with everything were chosen. No one forced anyone here to be on the panel. If there was an actual fear of cancellation (which I seriously doubt), they could have just not participated. "Fear of cancellation" has become a bogeyman for folks of certain political persuasions which is incredibly overstated. It's feels its much more straightforward to just assume the participants agree with the overall message of the forum.

As for membership, you have the choice of choosing individuals effected by the current names or disproving of them, or the people who would be in charge of the implementation of the names. Since the upper echelons of ornithology and birding are disproportionately white and male pretty much prevents you from doing both. I personally appreciated that they brought in people representing IOC, ABA, Ebird/Clements, several major bird conservation groups, several prominent field guide authors, and bird-banding networks. As those are folks who can actually speak of issues with implementation. I only personally know a few birders who are also POC, but all of them support the changes.

They didn't actually say anything out of fear as they didn't really say anything outside of the practicalities of implementation did they?

I did assume that this panel would turn their attention to World bird names which is going to be far more impactful. A protest at the domination of the white, middle class in nature, by,........the white middle class.

You also allude to the fact that names may change 'in lit' but this is far from being a guarantee that they'll be widely applied by birders on a day to day basis.

That's it anyway from this coressespondent.
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
They didn't actually say anything out of fear as they didn't really say anything outside of the practicalities of implementation did they?

I did assume that this panel would turn their attention to World bird names which is going to be far more impactful. A protest at the domination of the white, middle class in nature, by,........the white middle class.

They didn't actually say anything out of fear as they didn't really say anything outside of the practicalities of implementation did they?

I did assume that this panel would turn their attention to World bird names which is going to be far more impactful. A protest at the domination of the white, middle class in nature, by,........the white middle class.

You also allude to the fact that names may change 'in lit' but this is far from being a guarantee that they'll be widely applied by birders on a day to day basis.

That's it anyway from this coressespondent.
Potentially it will go global, but that is going to be pretty far off in the future. It's just too big a job at the moment, and would need buy in from local checklist committees. I actually wish that had been a question, because that is my biggest concern really. I don't AOS should be making calls on species that have only occurred in the AOS checklist area once or twice in history. I do see patronyms not getting used for future splits however, and I think a few problematic names will get changed sooner than later (I know some folks are really unhappy that a pheasant endemic to Taiwan is named for a Japanese Emperor...).

And yeah....people will probably keep using the old names. I know birders that use Marsh Hawk, and that name hasn't been published or used in the bird literature for decades. Just like I know many of you folks still used Bearded Tit on the other side of the pond. The people who strongly disagree with these name changes (or just don't pay attention to anything that has changed since they started) will keep on trucking along using the old names, while newer birders will adopt them as the field guides get updated and other people get used to them. Then decades from now people will get confused when they hear an old-timer talk about Swainson's Warbler, when they grew up using Canebrake Warbler.
 

MJB

Well-known member
On the subject, it is clear that some people within and without the birding community find certain bird names offensive. These are mainly birds named after people. The proposal is therefore to change the English language common names (in the USA) of all birds named after people. It is not a witch hunt of particular individuals it would apply to all people.

I would be interested in hearing reasons people may have for keeping the status quo.

I can understand the logic of considering changing the names that people find offensive. That principle is sound, but when you take into account each individual case, such an approach may not apply to the same extent. That part of the debate, which is necessary, is for another day.

However, to go on to propose that all birds named after people should have their name change is a logic leap and not at all an extension of the logical thread of the case for changing names. Deciding that the existence of offensively named bird species should result in changing the names of all birds named after, or in honour of, people is little different from stating 'Horses eat grass, cows eat grass, therefore horses are cows.' The principle of 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' should apply.

The natural world isn't alone in using names of people. In physics, chemistry, biology generally and mathematics there are innumerable examples of names of people. Amid conjectures, theorems, theories, rules, processes and components, eponymy is common. It wouldn't be too difficult to identify in those fields of endeavour numerous names of people who were dreadful individuals, who had well-earned reputations for cruelty and arrogance, or who were slave-owners, colonialists of the worst kind or who had sleazy characters, but is it the idea that these fields are somehow different and the question of changing names shouldn't apply?

Furthermore, I'm sure that many people whose names were used in bird names were complex characters whose good and bad points haven't all appeared in convenient biographies...
MJB
 

Mono

Hi!
Staff member
Supporter
Europe
My understanding is the complete removal of eponyms is to avoid all the drawn out, and sometimes heated, discussion that accompanies the weighing up of someone's "worth". Did person A fight for the Confederacy because they were a racist slave owner or because they were loyal to their state? But slavery was legal at the time... and the endless whataboutry that follows ad astra for every individual case. Would it not be better to just say no birds named after people regards of any perceived worth or otherwise they may have?
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
My understanding is the complete removal of eponyms is to avoid all the drawn out, and sometimes heated, discussion that accompanies the weighing up of someone's "worth". Did person A fight for the Confederacy because they were a racist slave owner or because they were loyal to their state? But slavery was legal at the time... and the endless whataboutry that follows ad astra for every individual case. Would it not be better to just say no birds named after people regards of any perceived worth or otherwise they may have?
That is sort of my understanding. A blanket rule is easier to deal with than case by case, especially since what is and isn't considered okay has changed quite a bit in the last hundred years. It also means you don't have to deal with the folks who might be more in the gray, and made important contributions to science but in a manner we wouldn't approve of today.

Granted, we will see if a blanket rule actually works. AOS had had other general blanket rules, and their are always exceptions being formed due to people's fondness for names and perceived stability, even if they violate the rules "cough Canada Goose cough Winter Wren"
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
Maybe a form could be sent in the mail to all of the ABA members, and a vote could be conducted for any potential new name to be accepted onto the ABA checklist. I would be a lot more willing to accept any new names if I knew the majority of birders actually wanted them.
 

MJB

Well-known member
That is sort of my understanding. A blanket rule is easier to deal with than case by case, especially since what is and isn't considered okay has changed quite a bit in the last hundred years. It also means you don't have to deal with the folks who might be more in the gray, and made important contributions to science but in a manner we wouldn't approve of today.

Granted, we will see if a blanket rule actually works. AOS had had other general blanket rules, and their are always exceptions being formed due to people's fondness for names and perceived stability, even if they violate the rules "cough Canada Goose cough Winter Wren"
A blanket rule may be easier to deal with, and not dealing with the folks who might be more in the gray, as you put it is a long way from the concept of Americans revelling in rising to a challenge as in:

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too." JFK, 12 September 1962. That speech inspired me then and continues to do so.

Jordan Rutter makes a salient point that many of the names are of people whose behaviour and actions in their lives were at times foul and objectionable, even in their day, but he shies away from examining each case on its merits, it seems, because he was so upset about those he checked out that he doesn't want to apply due diligence to every name. His examples are good, and makes a good case for changing them. That does not mean that all names will encounter the same degree of offence. His approach borders on the messianic, instead of calling for evidence-based decisions on the unexamined cases. Doing so will be hard, but isn't that what Americans can do so well?
MJB
 

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