Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Bird Names for Birds

"Bird Names for Birds" is an initiative launched in 2020 to change names of birds named after people "because birds don't need eponymous or honorific common names". The initiative knows that it "will not end racism" but sees itself as "one step" to raise awareness. Some examples...

Long-tailed Duck
The prior name of this bird was “Oldsquaw” – a derogatory and offensive name that references a certain sound made by a group of elderly Indigenous groups chattering. A proposal outlining this issue and reasons supporting a new name for the bird was accepted, however the reasoning for the name change was due to conservation implications and explicitly stated that inclusion reasons were not the motivating principle. (literally via)

McCown's Longspur (rejected proposal)
John P. McCown accidentally collected the longspur while out shooting birds. He was not an ornithologist and is given the note of being the first to collect a specimen due to known dates of notes. It was George N. Lawrence who formally named the bird after McCown. While Lawrence named this bird intentionally for the first person to collect a specimen, he also unintentionally named this bird “…after a man who fought for years to maintain the right to keep slaves, and also fought against multiple Native tribes.” As stated in the proposal, “John P. McCown, previously of the U.S. Army, joined the Confederacy and fought for the right of states to preserve slavery. He was not a minor participant in the war, but a mainstay; he participated in an array of campaigns and led men into battle. Although John P. McCown did not join the Confederacy until after his name was attached to the longspur, he likely held views of slavery consistent with his decision to join the Confederacy. With the United States general public increasingly embracing our diversity and confronting public displays of the Confederacy, such as flying Confederate flags, using Confederate general street names, and maintaining statues to Confederate soldiers, it is appropriate for the AOS to address its own piece of Confederate history, John P. McCown of McCown’s Longspur.” (literally via)

Bachmann's Sparow
At first read, the life of the Reverend John Bachman (1790-1874) seems quite admirable. An ordained minister who spent 56 years serving his flock at St. John’s Lutheran in Charleston, South Carolina, he had a passion for science and natural history. He was regarded by some in the South as radical for ministering to enslaved people, and for his argument that all humans were the same, unified species, rather than separate. He was elected as an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1845, and corresponded with many of the other leading naturalists and scientists of his day.

But this seemingly progressive outlook is only surface level. The reverend may have been a proponent of the unity of humanity in a single species; he was certainly, however, not a proponent of equality among it. A slave-owner himself, he saw no issue with holding fellow humans in bondage, even as he acknowledged their humanity. He vigorously denied that a belief in the oneness of humanity necessitated becoming an abolitionist, and sought to provide both scientific and religious reasoning for slavery within his framework:
“We are induced yet to offer a few remarks on the bearing of the doctrine of the Unity of the Human Race on the domestic institutions and vital interest of the South…those who have supported the doctrine of Unity, have sometimes been stigmatized as Abolitionists and enemies of the South…[t]he following are our views: That all the races of men, including the negro, are of one species and of one origin. That the negro is a striking and now permanent variety, like the numerous permanent varieties in domesticated animals. That varieties having become permanent, possess an organization that prevents them from returning to the original species, although other varieties may spring up among them. Thus the many breeds of domesticated animals that have arisen, some only within a few years, would never return to the form of the wild species, without an intermixture. That the negro will remain as he is, unless his form is changed by an amalgamation, which latter is revolting to us. That his intellect, although underrated, is greatly inferior to that of the Caucasian, and that he is, therefore, as far as our experience goes, incapable of self-government. That he is thrown to our protection. That our defense of slavery is contained within the Holy Scriptures. That the Scriptures teach the rights and duties of masters to rule their servants with justice and kindness, and enjoin the obedience of servants.” (literally via)
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photograph of Audrey Hepburn by Terry o'Neill via and via


  1. Wow, I never came across these photos! Thanks!

    1. ...and she just looked good in all photographs.