Re: Common Names

Subject: Re: Common Names
From: Ronald Orenstein <>
Date: Sat, 08 Aug 1998 09:43:50 -0400
>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!

Many years ago in 1973, when I was working in Australia, I wrote a note on
this point for the RAOU Newsletter.  I like to think my prose has improved
since then, but for those interested in the opposite case, as stated when I
actually over there, here it is:


"The Possessive Form in Vernacular Names

In the August 1973 issue of the newsletter, J. D. McDonald stated his reasons
for abandoning the possessive form in patronymic vernacular names in his new
Handbook. With the new edition of the RAOU checklist still not issued, it may
be of value to state the opposite case before a final decision is taken.
McDonald's decision may be well taken on the basis of semantics or the
attractiveness of the names, but I believe that the practice of abandoning the
possessive leads to a considerable amount of confusion. This arises especially
in cases where the name of the person involved is also the name of a locality,
color or other attribute. In these cases the use of the name without the
possessive may suggest, quite erroneously, something about the bird in
question. Several Australian examples can be given. Does the Bourke Parrot
its name because of Mr. Bourke, or because it occurs near Bourke, NSW? Does
Bower Shrikethrush build a bower? I know I went for some time under the
impression that Lewin was a descriptive adjective of some sort, like nankeen
(especially when used in such a perplexing combination as " Lesser
Lewin Honeyeater "). A particularly ridiculous example can be given for the
Britain species wren Reinwardtoena browni, Brown's Cuckoo Dove. To call this
the Brown Cuckoo Dove would surely cause confusion, especially since this is
one of the few cuckoo doves that has no brown in its plumage! This problem
works both ways. If a patronymic cannot be identified by's, how do I know when
one is in use? Is the Green Catbird named after Mr. Green?

In addition the use of the possessive can be justified on semantic grounds. A
patronymic vernacular is usually (but not always) a reflection of the
scientific name. The name of a person used in this fashion is always given in
the possessive (genitive) form (e. g. halli, dorotheae etc.). If the use of
possessive is warranted for the scientific name surely the vernacular can
safely follow suit.

For these reasons I believe that the use of the possessive in patronymics
should be adopted in Australia, as indeed it is in North America, Europe and
other areas.

Ronald Orenstein, c/o The Australian Museum"
Ronald I. Orenstein                           Phone: (905) 820-7886
International Wildlife Coalition              Fax/Modem: (905) 569-0116
1825 Shady Creek Court
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 3W2          

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