Vernacular names

To: bird <>
Subject: Vernacular names
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 22:47:48 +1000
Jenny Farrell's report of Pacific Bazas at Chatsworth, made me wonder yet
again why we (or more particularly, Birds Australia) use such names.

When there is a common name in common use in Australia, and a different
common name for the same species elsewhere, is there any reason other than
Australia's all too common cultural cringe, why we should change to conform
to some other community's usage?

I reckon it's a bit like the situation that applied when I was a student
(half a century ago) and it was virtually assumed that our plants had
migrated to Australia from the north. Now it is realised that in many cases
the drift was in the other direction, that the primitive ancestors were in
all probability in this part of Gondwana.

Black-necked Stork instead of Jabiru is another example.

Words, including names, are used to communicate information.  I venture to
suggest that even now, if anyone posted a message saying that they had seen
a Jabiru on a swamp in southern Queensland, no-one on birding-aus would for
a moment think it was a reference to the species carrying the scientific
name of Jabiru mycteria.   On the other hand there would be a lot of
Australians with just a bush person's general interest in birds, who would
wonder what was meant if someone said they had seen a black-necked stork,
but would know immediately if the reference was to a Jabiru.

If writing a scientific paper for an internationally read journal, then
perhaps one should conform to international practice if different from
Australian usage - but then scientific rather than vernacular names would be
used in any case.  

Among Australians who are not scientists but who enjoy the presence of
birds, I reckon Crested Hawk makes for much clearer communication than
Pacific Baza.  (What the hell is a "Baza" anyway?  A buzzard gone wrong?)

Syd Curtis in Brisbane

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