Rename all the things!

The American Ornithological Society has had a good idea: rename all those birds named after people.

Get ready to say goodbye to a lot of familiar bird names, like Anna’s Hummingbird, Gambel’s Quail, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Bewick’s Wren, Bullock’s Oriole, and more.

That’s because the American Ornithological Society has vowed to change the English names of all bird species currently named after people, along with any other bird names deemed offensive or exclusionary.

I like this idea. They’re first prioritizing renaming those poor birds saddled with the names of slaveholders and other such repugnant histories, but don’t stop there. Strip all those personal names from all of them. That hummingbird is not Anna’s, and neither is that woodpecker Lewis’s.

Not just birds, either: clean up those spiders and plants and mammals — why is it Thomson’s Gazelle? He seems to have been an all right guy for a European colonizer, but his name shouldn’t be on an animal that had been living in Africa long before some British explorer came along.

The latin binomials are a different story — they’re pretty much locked down and unchangeable. But maybe there should be a policy that latin names tied to specific individuals should be discouraged.


  1. Dennis K says

    Never been a fan of naming asteroids after people, either. No offense of course.

    Greco-Roman gods and goddesses have a much better ring to them anyway.

  2. tedw says

    Latin binomials may be harder to change, but it seems to me that it happens a good bit, especially since DNA analysis became a part of taxonomy. Case in point: rat snakes, formerly lumped together in the genus Elaphe are now often in other genera such as Pantherophis:

  3. says

    However, I am in favor of naming all the different cuckoos after repugnantcant politicians.
    And, rename the yellow-bellied sap sucker after tRUMP
    Mike Johnson’s name should be used to rename the ‘chicken hawk’

  4. says

    What does the Audubon Society think of this?
    I want to hear from the birding organization named after the slave trader who shot birds so he could paint lovely portraits of them.

  5. David Utidjian says

    Not even fictional ones? No more testudo aubreii ? I suppose there are enough stars and other ‘heavenly bodies’ to go around. Though, perhaps a more numerous species than ours would think differently.

  6. christoph says

    @feralboy12, # 7: The Audubon Society was also encouraging people to poison stray cats because cats preyed on birds.

  7. monad says

    Tributes like Agathidium rumsfeldi and Caloplaca mereschkowskiana are awful and undeserved, but I would kind of feel sorry to lose Japewiella dollypartoniana and Strigiphilus garylarsoni. :(

  8. robro says

    Some plants are named for people. I recently learned that the Clementine orange is named in honor of Clément Rodier. He was a French missionary in Algeria working at an orphanage in the mid-19th century. The plant was a spontaneous hybrid which he found, grafted to a stock plant, and thus we have it. I know little about Rodier except that he was a missionary in a colonial possession of France. Perhaps he was a wonderful person, but colonial missionary priest with young children lights up all kinds of unsavory possibilities.

  9. billmcd says

    @ted #4: Yeah, species can move genus, no problem, but the specific name is basically set in stone. And that’s where the people-names tend come into play, like Protoceratops andrewsi, named for Roy Chapman Andrews, who went out into the Gobi and found it.

    That said, I think avoiding specific names for ‘discoverers’ of living creatures is definitely a good idea, but in the fossil record? Eh, it’s not so egregious there.

  10. wzrd1 says

    @ 4, as it should be. Named by DNA relation is far more accurate than Jim-Bob’s peckerwood or something.

    shermanj @ 5, that’d be an honor to Trumpites, who will then happily call you ‘cuck’ even more often.
    Although, I finally did snap with one behaving in such a childishly boorish manner and replied, “Kindly keep your dirty small mind the fuck out of our motherfucking bedroom, or I’ll pluck your eyeballs out with a specially blunted infant feeding spoon – largely because it’ll hurt more (stolen from the Robin Williams live action version of Peter Pan)”. The asswipe shut up and actually behaved a bit closer to an adult for a while.
    No, I wasn’t about to find an infant feeding spoon. I’d have just chewed my way from ass to eyeball, removing them internally.

    @PZ, say that it ain’t so, we don’t have to rename Woody Woodpecker, do we? ;)

    @robro, maybe, maybe not, absent evidence to the contrary, well, I tend to give benefit of the doubt. Especially, as I actually prefer dealing with children and I’m about as sexually attracted to anyone under 40 as I’m attracted to the notion of screwing a cactus, wood chipper, cheese grater or angle grinder, for a short list and hint: being a chronic pain patient, I really loathe pain.
    And well, dealing with kids is both an opportunity to teach and an opportunity to engage in psychological warfare.
    And I always win, as my toys are far more expensive than theirs are. Chief being, education, experience and well, low through high technology.
    When our kids reached the “Why?” stage, largely asking why the sky’s blue. So, after being drilled down, I explained, in precise terms, via a didactic method, why, complete with Balmer series explanation.
    Amazingly, they retained nearly 10%, never persisted with “Why?” in that way again, but honestly, wanting information, not the usual nonsense and even today, we have a 100% open line of communication.
    I’m amazed that they retained so much of things that they were ill equipped to wrangle, as that background was lacking, but new “Why?” questions swiftly emerged to fill in gaps.
    Children are exasperating, so am I. Children are also far brighter than many give them credit for, so am I.
    And well, “The Jews will not replace us” is challenged by me and reality, “The Kids will replace us”, “equip them better and most properly to do so even better”.
    Even if they’re not my kids.

  11. whheydt says

    Re: billmcd @ #17…
    Ah… Someone else familiar with Roy Chapman Andrews. For those unfamiliar with him, he had three hare-brained ideas. 1. The Gobi Desert was a good place to look for fossils (true). 2. You could use motor vehicles to explore the Gobi Desert (true, though he arranged supply dumps emplaced with a camel caravan). 3. Central Asia was good place to look for human origins fossils (false).

  12. whheydt says

    Re: wzrd1 @ #18…
    Early in our marriage, my mother commented to my wife about kids, saying, “They’re every bit as bright as you are, but they have fewer distractions.”

  13. brightmoon says

    @wzrd 1 , I tried that science explanation thing with my then toddlers and it completely backfired. They wanted even more questions answered. . It culminated in me taking the oldest to a 3rd year biology class with me when he was 3 . Even though it was way past his bedtime (no babysitter) he sat enthralled through the entire lecture and pestered the professor with even more questions . Both kids are scientifically literate and the oldest has chemistry and biology degrees . Even convinced a close childhood friend of theirs to stop being a YEC and he also has a biology degree! I don’t mind kids asking questions.

  14. brightmoon says

    Ok that means I can still use Timema cristinae. It’s named after her . And it’s my favorite species for showing how background mimicry and natural selection can drive speciation . It’s a sorta grasshopper/katydid-like insect

  15. Erp says

    Darwin’s finches?

    Some names have somewhat loss an automatic connection to a person
    bougainvillea (named for Louis Antoine de Bougainville)
    lobelia (named for Matthias de Lobel)
    as someone mentioned, clementines

  16. StevoR says

    @ ^ Erp & #15. robro : “Some plants are named for people.”

    Yup. Then there’s the issue with the Hibbertias :

    Take the genus Hibbertia, the Australian guineaflowers. This is one of the largest genera of plants in Australia, and the one we study. There are many new and yet-unnamed species of Hibbertia, which means new species names are regularly added to this genus. .. (Snip)… Others honour significant people, either living or dead. Hibbertia is named after a wealthy 19th-century English patron of botany, George Hibbert.And here’s where things stop being straightforward, because Hibbert’s wealth came almost entirely from the transatlantic slave trade. He profited from taking slaves from Africa to the New World, selling some and using others on his family’s extensive plantations, then transporting slave-produced sugar and cotton back to England.

    Hibbert was also a prominent member of the British parliament and a staunch opponent of abolition. He and his ilk argued that slavery was economically necessary for England, and even that slaves were better off on the plantations than in their homelands.

    Even at the time, his views were considered abhorrent by many critics. But despite this, he was handsomely recompensed for his “losses” when Britain finally abolished slavery in 1807.

    So, should Hibbert be honoured with the name of a genus of plants, to which new species are still being added today — effectively meaning he is honoured afresh with each new publication?

    We don’t believe so. Just like statues, buildings, and street or suburb names, we think a reckoning is due for scientific species names that honour people who held views or acted in ways that are deeply dishonourable, highly problematic or truly egregious by modern standards.

    Just as Western Australia’s King Leopold Range was recently renamed to remove the link to the atrocious Leopold II of Belgium, we would like Hibbertia to bear a more appropriate and less troubling name.

    Source :

    @3. Dennis K : “Never been a fan of naming asteroids after people, either. No offense of course.”

    Plus comets?

    There’s a lot of them and hey, as long as they don’t blame a living person if their one hits our Earth..

    I don’t mind that, depending on the person..

  17. outis says

    @ 15, 24 et al:
    there’s scads of plants named after people, so renaming would be a huge task. Off the top:
    Strelitzia Reginae, after the von Strelitz German lineage iirc, splendid orange bauble,
    – a carload of Banksias, after the famed botanist,
    Sceuchzer’s campanula, again after a scientist (who embarrassed himself with that homo diluviis testis thingy), beautiful violet flower,
    Koch’s gentiane, again after a botanist, also beautiful, deep deep blue,
    and so on…

  18. karellen says

    along with any other bird names deemed offensive

    Oh no – does this mean we might end up with no tits or boobies? Those darn puritanical sensibilities…

  19. skeptuckian says

    Will they go so far as to get rid of “American”? American Kestrel, American Robin, American Avocet…

  20. brightmoon says

    @26 Begonias named after some guy named Begon

    Honestly the current genus name for devil’s ivy aka golden pothos needs a rethink , it’s just hard to say . Epipremnum doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue . They changed the genus from Pothos to Scindapsus to this horrible name . (Yes I know why they changed it , I still hate it)

  21. birgerjohansson says

    Renaming animals is straightforward.
    Rename birds of prey after Japanese Kaiju critters.
    Rename spiders after Lovecraftian entities and supernatural characters of Christian and Muslim religion.

    Rename intestinal parasites after Tories and Republicans, with the odd commie dictator thrown in as well.
    Squid? I don’t know. They are pretty smart, for invertebrates. That rules out celebrities and politicians.

  22. Erp says

    On Hibbert
    “Even at the time, his views were considered abhorrent by many critics. But despite this, he was handsomely recompensed for his “losses” when Britain finally abolished slavery in 1807.”

    That would have been the 1830s for the compensation to the owners and the ban (more or less) on slavery. The African slave trade was what was banned in 1807.

  23. Kamaka says

    The big prob with naming creatures after people is the names contain no useful information. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker has inherant meaning. Swainson’s Thrush, not so much.

    Swainson’s Hawk would be better described as the Dihedral Buzzard.

    The North American names for raptors are a mess. Accipitors are the the hawks, Buteos are the buzzards, Marsh Hawks are the Harriers. Vultures of the Americas are not “Buzzards” and are completely unrelated to the Vultures of Europe, Africa and Asia. The Black and Turkey Vultures and Condors of the Americas are storks.

    Who is Cooper and why would we care?

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