Re: Common Names & RAOU democracy

Subject: Re: Common Names & RAOU democracy
From: Ian Fraser <>
Date: Fri, 14 Aug 1998 11:45:36 +1000 (EST)
Sorry, can't stay off my hobby-horse much longer! Alan Morris comments, with
some justification, that:

>Individuals & groups voted, about 3000 people had their say! So don't
>blame Les and Walter blame the plebs! personally I think the RAOU did a
>great job with the names, it was very democratic and everyone did have
>their say!

I qualify it with "some" because it wasn't quite that simple! There were 2
categories of birds on which to vote. Category 1 was a true democratic vote,
and all credit for that. Category 2 though was just "an indication of the
popularity" of the name. This included two of those which cause most
hilarity/annoyance/exasperation. (Yes, in me at various times, but also in
many others I know.)

I refer of course to the infamous 'Baza' and his Needletailed mate. Both
were rejected by the 'plebs' - by over 2:1 in the case of the Swift - but to
no formal avail. And I know what the arguments are - I just think, purely
personally, that they're daft!

All of which of course begs the basic question. Why have 'formal' common
names at all? In publications we use scientific names. In conversation with
birdos from elsewhere, any uncertainty can only be resolved likewise. 

Maybe things have eased up a bit now, but there have been a couple of
undesirable practical effects of the purity-in-common-names drive that I
have noticed. One is that there is - or hopefully was - a generation of
earnest young (or recent) birdoes who really believe that there is an
"official" common name for each bird and who regard it as their duty to
correct and instruct others accordingly. Who among us has not suffered at
the hands of these Ornithological Pharisees and their Acolytes?!

The other, related, effect is that more recent, or less confident
enthusiasts become bewildered, intimidated and belittled, often with the
result that they lose the basic and most important goal - appreciation and
enjoyment of the bird itself.

Don't worry - I don't hate the RAOU, Les and Chris, BA, or anyone who works
to protect and increase appreciation of birds! I am in as good a position as
most to value this sort of unpaid and/or underpaid work.

Anyone, I'm now on the coconut shy pole; have a go!


Ian Fraser, Canberra  
Environment Tours; Vertego Environmental Writing Consultancy
GPO Box 3268, Canberra, ACT 2601
ph: 02 62491560 fax: 02 62473227

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