For those who do not know, the AOS (American Ornithological Society) has recently announced that they are considering changing the official common names of many bird species, especially birds names after people. I am curious to know what people think of this decision?
Personally, I am absolutely against changing the common names of birds. Birders don’t understand how amazing it is that they have official common names for every species. It allows new birders (or even long time birders who don’t want to learn about scientific names) to be able to talk about any bird species and have any other birder know what they are talking species they are talking about (assuming the other birder had heard of the species before). If we change all of these bird names, then this can’t happen. New birders will get field guides like Sibley or Peterson and find out that half of the names in the guides aren’t what the birding community is using, and this may cause many of them to stop birding altogether (I know if this had happened when I began birding I would have done that). In a time when birding is less popular than ever before and birds are in trouble more than ever before, that’s quite a dangerous thing to do.
The only reasons I think it is acceptable to change a bird’s name is if the bird is being split into multiple species (not changing the name is often the more confusing move in this situation) or large groups of people are actively offended by a bird’s name. For example, Oldsqaw is an offensive slur still in use today, so it makes sense to change it to Long-tailed Duck (as was done). No large groups of people are offended by a bird being named after McCown, who, despite fighting for the confederacy during the American Civil War never owned slaves and spoke out against the confederacy after the war.
Of course, even if McCown had owned slaves I would be against renaming the bird. 99% of people who will have seen the bird will not know or care who McCown was, even then I think judging people of the past by modern standards is in general a bad idea.