Winds of Change

To: "'Gordon Claridge'" <>, "'Laurie Knight'" <>
Subject: Winds of Change
From: "Stephen Ambrose" <>
Date: Sun, 5 Nov 2023 17:36:10 +1100
I can certainly understand the concerns of people regarding the changes to 
personified common names of Australian bird species, but people will continue 
to use the common names which they are most comfortable with in a colloquial 
context.  I still come across people who call the Magpie-lark a Peewee or a 
Piping Shrike, and that's okay with me. It's only going to be in formal 
communications (e.g. scientific, educational and conservation communications 
and considerations) the common name changes will matter. So old common names 
and their meanings will never disappear.

I remember with some amusement when Australian warbler species were renamed 
gerygones in 1978 which at the time resulted in a lot of consternation among 
birdwatchers, including myself. In fact the late Dom Serventy ran a 5-day 
birdwatching course at the Eyre Bird Observatory in 1981 and at the end of each 
day everyone came together to compile the group's bird list. When one rookie 
birdwatcher asked Dom how "gerygone" is spelled he replied with great 
indignation, "W-A-R-B-L-E-R!".  But 45 years after this renaming, people hardly 
batter an eyelid over the use of the word "gerygone" as a collective common 

As for a possible name change to Lewin's Honeyeater, John Lewin will still be 
remembered in the scientific name, Meliphaga lewinii, similarly with Lewin's 
Rail (Lewinia pectoralis), unless there is a move to change scientific names as 

Kind regards,

Stephen Ambrose
Ryde NSW

-----Original Message-----
From: Birding-Aus <> On Behalf Of Gordon 
Sent: 5 November 2023 9:54 AM
To: Laurie Knight <>
Cc: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] Winds of Change

Revisionism indeed.  Are they so short of other things to occupy their time?

This means more erosion of connections to elements of Australian history and 
culture. Presumably Lewin’s Honeyeater will suffer a name change, thus removing 
a pointer to not only John Lewin’s role in illustrating Australian birds, but 
also his being the first artist to record the distinct “look” of Australia 
without being blinded by European art conventions - a significant milestone in 
the development of Australian art(1).

It puts me in mind of a revision of common names back in (I think) the early 
‘80s and the proposal to do away with the ’Nankeen’ in Kestrel and Night Parrot 
names - apparently by people who were not aware that the name derived from the 
colour of a very cheap cotton fabric that was imported in considerable volume 
from Nanking in the early days. Not a major part of Australian history, but a 
pointer to the fact that there was trade between the colonies and China, and 
also that the fabric was so common for the name given to the fabric to become 
the descriptor for a particular colour.


(1) thanks Wikipedia

> On 4 Nov 2023, at 18:47, Laurie Knight <> wrote:
> The joys of revisionism.  It’s one way for taxonomists to make their mark 
> without defining a new species.
> I guess it will be a straightforward process for species that only occur in 
> one country.  I am not sure who would arbitrate over species that breed in 
> numerous countries or are international migrants. (There are heaps of 
> shorebirds and seabirds potentially affected).
> I think they should rename Victoria’s Riflebird at the same time as Albert’s 
> Lyrebird (Victoria became a shadow of herself when Albert died).
> I wonder if the powers that be will want to change the name from Royal to 
> Federal Spoonbill when Australia eventually becomes a republic  :)
> Regards, Laurie
>> On 4 Nov 2023, at 9:01 am, Geoffrey Dabb <> wrote:
>> … are blowing through our bird names.  For more than 10 years the 
>> possibility of changing English-language bird names referring to a person 
>> (‘personal’ or ‘eponymous’ names) has been on the table.  There are no 
>> longer any ‘correct’ or standard names, so the names used are a matter for 
>> the user  - whether an  organisation or government agency or field guide   - 
>>  or just someone talking or writing about birds.  Birdlife Australia, as one 
>> name-using  organisation, has taken an in-principle decision to move away 
>> from personal names.  How this is to be done  will be explained in due 
>> course by Birdlife Australia. As it happens, a similar decision has just 
>> been taken for North America by the American Ornithological Society (AOS).  
>> That’s OK.  Each generation can decide on its own bird names.
>> Here are a few more points. The initiative does not affect the many 
>> scientific names that refer to a person.  For the time being at least, names 
>> referring to a place that bears a personal name will not be affected (e.g. 
>> Lord Howe Woodhen, Tasmanian Native-hen).  Both the organisations mentioned 
>> see their projects as directed to species that occur mainly in the 
>> respective geographic areas they cover.   So in the case of Australia 
>> Baillon’s Crake might not be due for attention. That raises the question how 
>> the many oceanic seabirds with personal names will be dealt with. Perhaps 
>> that will be a matter for global lists as they adopt their own policies in 
>> reaction to this development.
>> Both organisations intend to take a consultative approach and look for 
>> appropriate descriptive names.  Experience of that task suggests that this 
>> will not be all that simple, particularly if features descriptive of the 
>> male only are to be avoided.   Albert’s Lyrebird will be an early candidate 
>> for the chopping block.  Not only does Prince Albert not deserve to have a 
>> bird named for him but the ‘lyre’ refers to the male only, of a different 
>> species.
>> Geoffrey
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