Friday, December 29, 2006

Misnamed Birds

What's in a name?

Here's a quote from William Shakespeare, taken from his recently discovered play about birding (found in a dusty attic in Stratford, Connecticut):

What's in a name?
That which we call a rose-breasted grosbeak.

By any other word would sing as sweet. [sic]

--From Birding with Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

As for me, I have an Everyday Joe name: Bill Thompson. It's such a generic name that lots of people end up calling me Bob or Tom or Bill Thomas or Bob Thomas or Tom Billson--well, maybe not that last one.

When I lived in New York City there were 88 William H. Thompsons in the phonebook for Manhattan. It was easy to tell would-be apartment-crashing visitors "Hey, I'm in the phone book!"

Even down the road from me in rural-most SE Ohio there is another William Thompson. That's why I use the suffix III on my name. And am BT3 for short.

If you don't like your existing name, there are ways to discover other names that exist for you that you may not have known about. This may be the true reason why the Internet was invented. You can figure out your Soap Opera Name, your Adult Film Star Name, and other names you'll hope never to hear used in public here.

I loved getting my Pirate Name (Mad William Flint) from this web site.

And now we come to bird names, and especially birds with bad names. Where to start?

Above is an image I took of a red-bellied woodpecker showing some of the red belly for which the species is named. But the era of shotgun ornithology (where birds were shot, examined dead in the hand, then named for some physical attribute or a fellow ornithologist or the tree they were in or where they were shot) also has given us ring-necked duck. Have you ever seen the ring on the neck of a ring-necked duck? Me either!

Some other peevish bird names:
Purple finches are raspberry in color not purple.
Goatsuckers do not suck the milk or blood from goats.
Palm warblers aren't usually found in palm trees
Magnolia warblers are not normally found in magnolias (but Alexander Wilson shot some in a magnolia tree back in 1810 or so).
Prairie warblers avoid the prairies.
Connecticut warblers are fairly hard to see in Connecticut.
Ditto Cape May warblers in Cape May.
Magnificent hummingbirds are nice, but....
Sapsuckers drink sap rather than sucking it.
Have you ever seen the Nuttall's on a Nuttall's woodpecker?

Hey, I'm just getting warmed up here...

Got your own suggestions for the worst bird name? Give me a shout!


At 8:22 PM, Anonymous [email protected] said...

Not sure if this fits in as the worse names (that they already have) but I always thought the White-crowned Sparrow (although it does describe its name) should be called the skunkheaded sparrow! Yellow Rumps should also be named Butter Butts!

At 8:50 PM, Blogger brdpics said...

In general, I'd say that common is way overused.

For example, Great Northern Diver is so much cooler than Common Loon, which shares very few attributes of things I regard as common.

To wit, hardly anything from the following entry applies well to this or many other birds with this moniker:

From Roget's II: The New Thesaurus, Third Edition by the Editors of the American Heritage® Dictionary Copyright © 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

1. Belonging to, shared by, or applicable to all alike: communal, conjoint, general, joint, mutual, public. See group.
2. Belonging or relating to the whole: general, generic, universal. See specific/general.
3. Occurring quite often: everyday, familiar, frequent, regular, routine, widespread. See usual/unusual.
4. Commonly encountered: average, commonplace, general, normal, ordinary, typical, usual. See surprise/expect.
5. Lacking high station or birth: baseborn, déclassé, declassed, humble, ignoble, lowly, mean, plebeian, unwashed, vulgar. Archaic base. See over/under.
6. Being of no special quality or type: average, commonplace, cut-and-dried, formulaic, garden, garden-variety, indifferent, mediocre, ordinary, plain, routine, run-of-the-mill, standard, stock, undistinguished, unexceptional, unremarkable. See good/bad, usual/unusual.
7. Of moderately good quality but less than excellent: acceptable, adequate, all right, average, decent, fair, fairish, goodish, moderate, passable, respectable, satisfactory, sufficient, tolerable. Informal OK, tidy. See good/bad.
8. Of low or lower quality: inferior, low-grade, low-quality, mean, mediocre, second-class, second-rate, shabby, substandard. See better/worse.
9. Known widely and unfavorably: infamous, notorious. See knowledge/ignorance.

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

How about Screech owls? Maybe they should have been called "Horsey owls". But of course, that sounds stupid.

Isabelle came up with her own bird name for buffleheads:
Buffleheaded boobies. It never fails to make her giggle.
And by the way...why are boobies called boobies? The birds, I mean.
Hee hee.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Liza Lee Miller said...

I agree about the Common tag. I mean: Common Ravens. Hello . . . where are the UNcommon Ravens? What's up with THAT?

Purple Finches drive me mad -- that name is ludicrious.

I thought it should be Sapsippers -- it has a much nicer sound than SapSUCKers. :)

I think Tom Billson is probably your Hobbit name! And, don't forget my personal favorite name site . . . Your Peculiar Aristocratic Title . . .

Happy birding with love,

Her Grace Duchess Liza Lee the Scattered of Much Bottom

At 1:44 PM, Blogger BT3 said...

Dear Madam Duchess:
Thanks for the tip on the Aristocratic Title naming site. I am now:
Count-Palatine William the Glutinous: of Old Tonbridge Wafers

Susan: The term booby came from their supposed stupidity when sailors landed on their nesting islands and killed them easily (clubbing or wringing necks) and took their eggs for food. Nice!

At 1:45 PM, Blogger BT3 said...

[email protected]: I also am in favor of Amish warbler for the hooded warbler's new, more accurate name.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My older daughters when preschool age always referred to the pinyon jays that came to our deck feeders as the "opinion jays". A fitting malapropism if ever there was, what a noisy crowd they are when a flock comes in.
Caroline in SD

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous katdoc said...

In the "Worst Re-named Species" category, I would like to nominate "Eastern Towhee." What was wrong with "Rufous-sided Towhee," a beautiful, melodic, and descriptive name? Everything that isn't "Northern" or "Common" is "Eastern." I vigorously protest the name change, and am actively recruiting accolytes to my cause.

Duchess Liza: Thanks for the direct link to the aristocratic name site. I will have to go there forthwith.

~plain old Kathi (for now)

At 1:24 AM, Blogger Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers said...

Hey, BT3. Yeah, I'm behind on blog reading (don't you dare bring up blog WRITING).

I'm mostly sympatico with you on the obscure/inappropriate names thing. My least faves, in part because I mix dem up all de damn time, are Broad-billed Hummingbird and Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Abysmally undescriptive, unimaginative names.

But on the matter of Purple Finch I believe that our perception of what constitutes "purple" has changed in the last couple of centuries. Check out the color description and samples at this link:

Wikipedia: Tyrian purple

What most of us modern types would call "purple" would have been violet to the person who first exclaimed, "Look yonder, Silas! There flies a purple-colored finch!"


Baroness Sheri the Dulcet of Deepest Throcking


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