We continue looking at the 10,721 species names from the updated Clements taxonomy. Well, not all of them at once, but various interesting subsets. Previously, we looked at the number of words in bird names, comparing their structure with human names and “surnames.”
A natural step from here is to look at an even more direct intersection: species named after people…. the honorifics.
This is a terrible way to name a bird. Honoring the individual that first described a bird is all well and good, and can be done in the scientific/latin name, as is often the case… without spilling over into the common name: Hooded Yellowthroat (Geothlypis nelsoni) is a fine example – was that so hard? The common names that birders must commit to memory – and associate with an image – should be descriptive. There is simply nothing descriptive in the name “Ludlow’s Fulvetta.”
Anyway, here are the next ten trivia questions:
Of the 10,721 species of the Clements taxonomy, how many are named after people?
How many different individuals have birds named after them (with a name in the possessive form, such as “Ludlow’s Fulvetta”)?
Which one individual has the most species named after them? (To be clear – this is in terms of common name only – the answer may well differ if we were to include the scientific names)
Following up to the above question, how many species have common names in honor this person?
When naming a bird after a person, the name is almost always of the form “Wilson’s Warbler”; that is, it uses a possessive adjective. There are, however, (at least) 28 species that are named after specific people, but that do not use this form.
Can you give an example of a species named in honor of a specific person, but which does not use an apostrophe in the spelling?
Can you provide a species name which references a specific person’s name, although the bird is not named specifically for them?
There is one species whose common name references two specific people. What is it?
Okay, turning this around: naming people after birds. There are several bird “surnames” which are used as first names in English. Some have fallen out of fashion; how many can you come up with?
Lucy’s Warbler, Virginia’s Warbler, and Grace’s Warbler were all given their names by the same ornithologist – who was it?
One naturalist, with multiple species named after him, is unique in that “his” species reference both his title (which is not an english term) and last name. Who is this person?
#1: Of the 10,721 species, how many are named after people?
(c) 834, by my accounting. There are 806 birds in Clements that have an apostrophe, not including the Chuck-will’s-widow, which is not named after someone called Chuck-will. See the answer to number 5 below for the other birds.
#2: How many different individuals have birds named after them?
(c) 506 that use the possessive form, see the answer to number 5 for the others.
#3: Which one individual has the most species named after them?
The individual with the most species named after him is Edward Blyth (1810-1873), pictured above.
#4: Following up to the above question, how many species were named after this person?
Mr. Blyth has 12 species, per the Clements taxonomy:
Blyth’s Reed Warbler
Blyth’s Leaf Warbler
By the way, individuals with seven or more species named after them are:
- Blyth 12
- Cassin 9
- Pallas 8
- Hume 8
- Finsch 8
- Jerdon 8
- Salvadori 8
- Shelley 8
- Rüppell 8
- Temminck 7
- Sharpe 7
- Sclater 7
- Newton 7 (see below)
#5: Can you give an example of a species named in honor of a specific person, but which does not use an apostrophe in the spelling?
I have found 28 species instances where a species is named in honor of a specific person, but the name is not of the possesive form, e.g., “Johnson’s Wren.” There are sixteen people involved:
- Victoria Crowned-Pigeon (for Queen Victoria, who else? She also has the Victoria‘s Riflebird)
- Gouldian Finch (for ornithologist John Gould’s wife)
- Blackburnian Warbler (for the botanist Anna Blackburne)
- Alexandrine Parakeet (for Alexander the Great)
- Derbyan Parakeet (for Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby)
- There are seven “Magellanic” birds: Penguin, Plover, Oystercatcher, Diving-Petrel, Cormorant, Woodpecker, and Tapaculo (for Ferdinand Magellan)
- Goliath Coucal and Goliath Heron (for the noted gargantuan Philistine and sling-victim)
- Mikado Pheasant (for the Emperor of Japan)
- Montezuma Quail and Oropendola (for the Aztec Emperor)
- Narcissus Flycatcher (for the mythological narcissist)
- Narina Trogon (name of Francois Levaillant’s mistress)
- Princess Parrot (for Princess Alexandra of Denmark)
- Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise (for the Marquis Francis Raggi of Genoa)
- Zenaida Dove (for Zénaïde Laetitia Julie Bonaparte, wife of the French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte and niece of Napoleon Bonaparte)
- Crested Argus and Great Argus, probably named for the mythological Argus Panoptes.
- There are four Newtonias, named in honor of Sir Edward Newton (source: Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names, James A.Jobling). This is the only example I know of where the “surname” (also the genus) is named after a specific person. Newton also has three species using the possesive form.
Wait! You ask, “What about the Merlin? Isn’t this like the Narcissus example?” I thought so too, but from what I have read, the bird name is not reference to the Arthurian wizard. Per Wikipedia: “The name “merlin” is derived from Old French esmerillon via Anglo-Norman merilun or meriliun.” Esmerillion was apparently a previous name specific to this bird; I have not been able to find any other meaning. The sorcerer’s name came from a Welsh term.
#6: Can you provide a species name which references a person’s name, although the bird is not named specifically for them?
This happens when the bird name references a place that was named after a person. There are over 48 names in this category that I can account for… here is an example of at least one species per name:
Baltimore Oriole, Hudsonian Godwit, Colombian Grebe, Bolivian Spinetail, Juan Fernandez Tit-Tyrant, Lord Howe Swamphen (extinct), Santa Marta Warbler, San Andres Vireo, Virginia Rail, St. Lucia Black Finch, Henderson Island Reed Warbler, Bismarck Black Myzomela, Nashville Warbler, Atherton Scrubfowl, Chatham Albatross, Crozet Shag, Geelvink Pygmy-Parrot, Gough Island Finch, Gough Moorhen, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Heard Island Shag, Humboldt Penguin, Isabela Oriole, Isabelline* Shrike, Kimberley Honeyeater, King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise, Macquarie Shag, Magdalena Antbird, Mascarene Coot, Mauritius Blue-Pigeon, Nariño Tapaculo, Nightingale Island Finch, Norfolk Ground Dove, Noronha Elaenia, Pitt Island Shag, Rennell Fantail, Rodrigues Fody, Rondonia Bushbird, Rote Leaf Warbler, Solomons Boobook, St. Helena Crake, St. Lucia Oriole, St. Vincent Parrot, Stephens Island Wren, Stewart Island Shag, Sucre Antpitta, Torresian Crow, Wake Island Rail, Wallacean Drongo, Wonga Pigeon, and Zapata Rail.
Two species are named after Esmereldas, the northernmost province of Ecuador: a Woodstar and an Antbird. This refers to “emeralds” and not the name of anyone.
#7: There is one species whose common name references two specific people. What is it?
Archbold’s Newtonia. I believe this is unique among bird names. References both Edward Newton and Richard Archbold.
#8: There are several bird “surnames” which are used as first names in English. Some have fallen out of fashion; how many can you come up with?
Any list would have to include:
Robin, Jay, Martin, and Phoebe (though this last one is tragically uncommon now. Not only a fine name for a bird, but Holden Caulfield’s little sister.)
Another rarely used one, at least in the USA, is Raven.
Not sure about the following, but what great names they would be… Myna, Lory, Sibia, Tesia, Iora, and my favorite, Elaenia. Maybe even Crane? Bishop? Argus? Jery?
#9: Lucy’s Warbler, Virginia’s Warbler, and Grace’s Warbler were all given their names by the same ornithologist – who was it?
Spencer Fullerton Baird. Lucy was his daughter; Virginia was the wife of the discoverer of “her” bird; and Grace was the sister of Elliot Coues, who is credited with finding Setophaga graciae. Adelaide’s Warbler has a similar origin, as Adelaide was the daughter of one Robert Swift, who has no birds to his name, thus avoiding the horribly monstrous possibility of “Swift’s Swift.”
#10: One naturalist with multiple species named after him is unique in that “his” species reference both his first and last name. Who is this?
The answer is Père David, AKA Armand David, a Catholic missionary and botanist. He has four birds:
- Père David’s Owl
- Père David’s Tit
- Père David’s Laughingthrush
- Père David’s Snowfinch
“Père” would be equivalent to “Father” in English.
*The origin of the color isabelline is not clear. There is a disputed story that it refers to the color of the undergarments of either Isabella I of Castille or Isabella Clara Eugena of Spain. The hue became distinctive because it resulted from the discolored underclothes never being removed from the royal person for months or years due to an ongoing siege.
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