Ornithology in the USA: Dozens of bird species are to be renamed because their namesakes were racists

A number of birds have been named after humans, mostly after their respective discoverers.

Ornithology in the USA: Dozens of bird species are to be renamed because their namesakes were racists

A number of birds have been named after humans, mostly after their respective discoverers. But in many cases these were people whose actions and attitudes are viewed critically today.

The American Society for Ornithology now wants to change that. Dozens of bird species that currently bear human names are to be renamed. This is particularly about namesakes who historically stand for racism and discrimination. "Names have power and power can be used for good or bad," Colleen Handel, the society's president, told NPR. "And we want these names to be powerful in a good way."

Some of the bird names have “offensive or derogatory connotations” and would therefore hurt people, explained Handel. That would exclude many bird lovers. Starting next year, 70 to 80 species of birds, which occur primarily in the USA and Canada, will be renamed. The Society for Ornithology emphasizes that the English names should be changed and not the scientific names.

An example is the pine bunting (Peucaea aestivalis): its English name is Bachman's Sparrow, after the American clergyman and naturalist John Bachman, who lived in the 19th century. Bachman was a slave owner and tried to find theological and scientific arguments for the system of slavery.

Eponyms, i.e. cases in which species are named after their discoverers, and honorific namings - for example of kings - are problematic because they are often linked to colonialism and racism, claims the "Bird Names for Birds" initiative. Instead, the new naming should focus on properties that should also stand the test of history: for example, typical colors or anatomical peculiarities.

As early as 2000, a species of duck was renamed whose original name was seen by many as an insult to indigenous people. Since then it has been called the long-tailed duck. In 2021, a bird that bore the name of a Confederate general was also renamed. In German, too, numerous bird species whose names had racist backgrounds have already been given new names. For example, the Hottentot duck became the spotted duck.

Quellen: NPR / Bird Names for Birds / "Geo"

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