Common Names

Subject: Common Names
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Sat, 8 Aug 1998 21:35:52 +1000
"What's in a name? she sez."

I've been enjoying the 'common names' mail  -   Glen's humour, serious
comments, and all.  Sadly it seems to be dying down.  Maybe, as Stuart
Cooney said in starting the discussion, "all the words that need to be
typed have been typed".  I haven't been a subscriber for very long, either.

Glen Ingram (in serious vein) wrote-

"Even so, the name should have been Australian Jabiru as in Australian Magpie."

Glen, while I know the RAOU's Christidis & Boles Monograph recommends
"Australian Magpie", I'll wager that most Australians who don't simply call
the bird a "Magpie" call it a "Maggie" ... and the rest, having just been
attacked by one of those feathered terrorists, are using names that would
not be acceptable in a family newspaper.

The purpose of language is to communicate.  Anyone for whom English is
their native tongue has no difficulty coping with homonyms, determining
from the context which meaning applies.  No confusion arises in Australia
when one speaks of a Magpie and means the Australian bird.  And indeed, I
reckon that no overseas subscriber to birding-aus would have any difficulty
in knowing what is intended.

But if, in Australia, one did want to speak or write of a non-Australian
Magpie, it would be necessary to specifiy that, unless the context made
this clear.

So for me, and I trust for Stuart, a Jabiru will remain a Jabiru, without
the need for a qualifying "Australian", unless and until that "inferior
South American Stork" invades our continent.  And my guess is that a lot of
non-ornithologically inclined Australians with some knowledge of our birds
would immediately know what we meant when Stuart or I speak of a Jabiru,
but will be puzzled if you, Glen, refer to a Black-necked Stork.  So which
name is the more effective in communication?

Christidis and Boles - or rather their RAOU predecessors - performed a
useful service in offering us a single preferred English name where a
species had several names in common use.  But they did us a disservice in
changing names where a single English name was in widespread use and no
confusion could possibly arise from that use.  Changing "Crested Hawk" (an
entirely apt name) to "Pacific Baza" is an example.

Even more annoying is the ridiculous conversion of proper names to
possessive's.  For more than a century, _Menura alberti_ had been known as
the Albert Lyrebird.  Every reference to it in the literature that used an
English name so designated it.  Then we are told to change it to Albert's
Lyrebird.  Does that add any clarity to communication?  On the contrary!

In the course of discussing lyrebirds, once one could write: "Male Superbs
display on a mound of earth, but male Alberts use a platform of thin
vines", but that abbreviation is no longer available.  Now one must use the
clumsy-sounding "male Albert's Lyrebirds use ..."  And to be pedantically
correct, one would need to write of "an Albert's' nest" with a possessive
apostrophe both before and after the 's'.

As I recall, the argument used was that the name "Victoria Riflebird" would
be taken to imply that the species occurred in Victoria, but if one said
"Victoria's Riflebird, one immediately knew it was named for Queen
Victoria.  I failed to see why.  And as the years go by fewer and fewer
Australians will have any knowledge of Queen Victoria.  "Victoria's
Riflebird" will be just as likely as "Victoria Riflebird" to make them
wonder if it occurs in that State.

And as for that ugly and unnatural modernism "Birds Australia" replacing
the almost century-old name of the organisation ... but perhaps I've
stirred the possum enough to keep the messages coming a bit longer.  I hope


Syd at Hawthorne, Qld.

H Syd Curtis

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