English Names

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at eohsi.rutgers.edu
Wed Jun 9 06:23:16 EDT 1999

The analogy to gardiners is useful but not perfect.  After all the 
gardiners have adopted the generic names of some or many plants as the 
"common" names and are using the names in that way, not at all the way 
lepidopterists use scientific names.   Thus one may point proudly to a 
Coreopsis, but if asked what kind they are more likely to give an 
English varietal name than a scientific species name.   

For a brief period in the 1960's (that rebellious period) when bird 
watchers were just beginning to penetrate the Neotropics in large 
numbers, there was an attempt to use the generic names as the epithet 
for a group of birds.  I remember specifically groups like Atlapetes.  I 
think we also tried to call some of the Foliage Gleaners, "Philydors" 
and others "Automolus"***  to break up the long list designated as 
"Foliage Gleaners"  This served to help us learn the birds and also to 
make it easier to develop names.  We did learn the scientific names (not 
very difficult when you're in your twenties), but that was more in 
self-defense than for pleasure.

However, the death-knell to this "half-scientific-name" movement was 
sounded by my good friend and colleague, the late Eugene Eisenmann, of 
the American Museum of Natural History.  Through his Checklist of Middle 
American Birds and his contribution to Rudolph Meyer de Schauensee's 
"orange book", an annotated checklist of South American birds, Gene 
almost singlehandedly, gave "common" names to Neotropical birds.  Many 
of these "common" names were, of course, not common at all----unlike the 
century old tradition for English butterflies. 

Most subsequent books followed the names that Gene used.  Later Jim 
Clements developed a Checklist of Birds of the World that "standardized" 
names worldwide.  The fact that the names have changes in many cases in 
subsequenbt editions, does call into question the term "standardized". 

There are still a few cases where generic names correspond to common 
names.  I can think of the tanager genus Euphonia, members of which are 
called Euphonias (but when I was learning neotropical birds the genus 
was called Tanagra).  The common name for the genus Diuca is 
Diuca-Finch; the genus Cacicus is Caciques.  In both cases I wonder 
which came first.

***Note that Automolus above might be confused with Automolis, but not 
if one called the first it a Foliage Gleaner. 

Mike Gochfeld 

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