If anyone wants to read the NACC’s comments on the previous proposal to change the name (in 2019), it can be found here: https://americanornithology.org/nacc/current-prior-proposals/2019-proposals/proposals-2019-a/
The McCown’s proposal is the third one down.
My favourite youtuber, Joey Santore, laments eponymous scientific names often. One of his better points is that these organisms have been here for a substantially long period of time, far longer than any human, and naming a species after a specific person just gives off a very anthrocentric vibe. I can understand where he comes from and do agree that names derived from geography or anatomy might be better. I myself don’t have a particularly strong opinion, as I dont know the context which all organisms have been named, but surely immortalizing a person of dubious history within a bird’s common name can be problematic.
A conversation on very similar themes occurred here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/managing-offensive-common-names/12358
although that was more about names that contain slurs, rather than naming for people involved in atrocities. There was significant disagreement on the advisability of removing offensive common names and several people made the point that in different countries different things are offensive or not. In that conversation, @bouteloua suggested that iNat should strike, but not delete, common names that a significant portion of users find offensive. I think that is reasonable, and more importantly, @tiwane thinks “@bouteloua’s suggestion is the best way forward.” Obviously iNat is not the authority on common name of birds, but similar issues will certainly arise in many taxa, and it seems like this policy could apply.
I didn’t like the excuses cited by the board who originally denied changing the name:
"The nine-person committee rejected Driver’s proposal by a vote of seven to one, with one abstention. In anonymous written responses, several committee members argued that the group should favor “stability in names” as much as possible, reflecting the checklist’s taxonomic philosophy. Some worried about making the change without having a clear policy in place for other ethically fraught names. “It is widely known that judging historical figures by current moral standards is problematic, unfair to some degree, and rarely black-and-white,” one wrote.
Others questioned whether renaming birds was the best way to promote inclusion: “While I fully appreciate and promote our need to increase diversity in the sciences, in my view this is not a particularly effective way to do so,” another committee member wrote."
Yeah, OKAY…Sure, sounds about white. For one, the names change all the time! There are so many that have changed names since I started just three years ago…and those are ONLY my own observations…so obviously that’s a cop out excuse. I have a Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast from 1994 and maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the names have changed. It’s not that big of a deal to change the name. Apparently they saw the light (the public pressure became too much), though, so, there’s that.
And you don’t think it’s an effective way to promote diversity?
The NACC membership is all white. An AOS spokesperson confirmed to Undark that the committee did not consult any Black scientists before making its ruling.
I’m sorry, but as white people, you don’t get to decide what’s effective in promoting diversity (saying this as a white person). You need to defer to people that have had experiences different from your own. The Caucasity.
And my preference for naming things is to use the Indigenous name, when possible, as that name existed for thousands of years before a white guy shot it. Physical features or geographical location would be next.
That’s good to hear! It’s a relief to know that the bird is no longer named after a bigot, and instead named after its characteristics. @haida_gwaii I can see how its a better idea to name species after the indigenous name, seeing as how it has been known by that name for longer, and also because white people in america stole native land and colonised the united states, I mean, why should they get to name species after racists? And yes, many people who don’t belong to marginalised groups(in this case, white people) often show a lack of understanding when it comes to social issues. But it’s nice to know that public pressure has the power to overturn the ill-informed decisions of commitees like the NACC.
And the fact that their responses were anonymous shows their cowardice as well as the fact that they seem to have a greater regard for ‘stability’ than for human beings. Power truly does not belong in the hands of people who lack the ability to be considerate.
Using indigenous names might work in Hawaii or Aotearoa, where there was essentially one indigenous language; but how would you decides which indigenous people’s name to use for a bird widespread across the ancestral homelands of several indigenous peoples?
Yeah, I thought of that when I wrote it… There were at minimum, hundreds of tribes with their own languages, and different dialects within those languages as well. My husband is Haida, and there are Masset, Skidegate and Kaigani (Alaska) dialects.
At first, I thought the language from where the organism is endemic to. But what about species endemic to multiple places? That is problematic.
Organisms named after physical features are easier to remember, for me. But for the reasons mentioned by @anirtha_n above, I think using an Indigenous word should be utilized when possible. To make things slightly easier, many of the Indigenous languages are dead or dying. Most of the speakers alive are elderly. Since most or all of the cultures was spoken history instead of written, little has survived. It’s a depressing legacy of European settlers’ desires to annihilate Indigenous people in every way possible.
I would strongly suggest going to the link I provided and actually reading the comments. The journalist didn’t do a good job of representing them. And the anonymous nature of the comments has nothing to do with cowardice, and everything to do with the fact that they are ruling on proposals being submitted by peers. (99.9% of them have nothing to do with political issues, after all.)
I did read them. It was a lot of “well, actually…” and “slippery slope” arguments. Taxonomy is entirely subjective and like everything else, politics permeates it. What are you losing by being inclusive?
Everyone has something to do with political issues if they live in this society, honestly. It’s just that often, people with more social power think they can afford to be apolitical because the issues don’t directly affect them.
If you’ve read more of the proposals than this one, you’ll realize that most of them have to do with technical taxonomic issues that hardly anybody besides specialists even notice. If you want to consider those “political”, then that’s your call, but I don’t see how defining the word that way is going to be useful. Common name changes are definitely in the minority, and even those are generally only noticed by birders.
My point here was that the reporter cited above did a very bad job of reporting. Most of the dissents weren’t about “stability”, they were about the factual claims surrounding McCown. Personally, I don’t really care what they decided to do with the name – but whoever settled on “Thick-billed Longspur” did the world a disservice, I think. Gray-breasted Longspur or Short-grass Longspur would both work much better, in my opinion.
I clicked on the link but got a 404 error, I guess it’s been too long.
Ah, okay, they’ve reorganized things just a bit over there. Here’s the current link: https://americanornithology.org/nacc/current-prior-proposals/2019-proposals/comments-2019-a/
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