On November 1, the American Ornithological Society announced, through its president Colleen Handel, that it would rename all bird species that bear the names of people and in particular the surnames of ornithologists . “The AOS is committed to changing all English-language bird names within its geographic jurisdiction that are directly named after people or names deemed offensive and exclusionary, focusing first on species occurring primarily in the United States or Canada,” details a press release.
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This radical decision, explains Colleen Handel, was taken because “certain English bird names refer to a history considered harmful and exclusionary today”. It notably follows a mobilization within the ornithological world to remove the surnames of scientists or other figures who have had a controversial history. Among the birds that would be renamed, the New York Times cites the case of the Audubon's shearwater, named after the Franco-American ornithologist Jean-Jacques Audubon (1785 -1851). The scientist and illustrator is today singled out because he long opposed the abolition of slavery. Another example, that of the greenish-yellow oriole, which the Americans named Scott's Oriole, in homage to General Winfield Scott who distinguished himself during the Civil War but who was also one of the architects of the deportation of Indian peoples west of the Mississippi to free up land for settlers.
The “sexist” nature of bird names is also highlighted by the AOS report since most of the names attached to species are masculine, and more precisely those of “white men”. The disappearance of these surnames would therefore be a means of correcting, in an “inclusive” way, an underlying misogyny.
This major renaming exercise would ultimately allow, according to the AOS, to focus attention on the “birds themselves, their appearances and their behavior” and to move away from “the conventions of the 19th century, often racist and misogynistic, which no longer have any reason to exist today,” in the words of its president.
This decision is part of a movement that does not only affect birds in the United States. Thus this moth, migratory and devastating, which Linnaeus's catalog lists as the moth moth, was known in the United States and Canada as the gypsy moth. It was renamed the gypsy moth, another name by which it was recognized. This moth would thus have gained greater respectability.