Bird Names for Birds is a grassroots initiative aiming to change eponymous common names of birds, specifically in North America, arguing that many have been named after problematic people.
Rutter said the initiative identified a list of 150 birds in North America named after people and that it is attempting to get those names changed. The effort goes beyond “just the window dressing of bird names,” said Rutter. “We’re really calling for a change in the process.”
Last year, supporters of bird name changes saw one victory when the American Ornithological Society renamed McCown’s longspur — after Confederate Gen. John Porter McCown — as the thick-billed longspur.
“We are excited to put this important task into the hands of our ad hoc committee, and look forward to receiving their recommendations on the process for reviewing and changing English bird names to ensure ornithology and birding are as inclusive as possible,” the AOS said in the statement.
Ultimately, Bird Names for Birds wants to make the system across the board more inclusive. While changing the name of McCown’s longspur to thick-billed longspur was great, it only represented the tip of the iceberg, Rutter said, noting that the AOS previously rejected the same proposal in 2018.
“Nothing about the process changed,” she said, adding that more can be done to amplify non-White birders’ perspectives.
In response, the AOS said it has been “discussing in earnest the issue of eponymous bird names” since the initial rejection in 2018.
“The American Ornithological Society (AOS) acknowledges the systemic barriers faced by scientists of color, who have been largely underrepresented in STEM disciplines and, specifically, in avian systematics. AOS unequivocally supports increasing diversity and inclusion in ornithology and is committed to anti-racism,” the organization said in a statement to CNN.
The issue of renaming is not a new one. Symbols and names linked to the Confederacy are being removed across the country.