Proposal (625) to South American Classification Committee
Modify English name of Pheucticus chrysogaster
Background: In SACC Proposal 72, the adoption of “Southern Yellow-Grosbeak” as the new English name for Pheucticus chrysogaster was solidly defeated. I agree that that name was cumbersome and ugly. However, as a tour guide who regularly has to point the species out to birders, I have a hard time remembering the name Golden-bellied Grosbeak (and often find myself saying “Yellow Grosbeak” instead) because that name could also be applied just as easily to P. aureoventris, a species that is broadly sympatric with P. chrysogaster in the northern and central Andes. Indeed, the English translation of both scientific names is “Golden-bellied” (chrysogaster being Greek, and aureoventris Latin)! Since the belly of P. chrysogaster is no more golden than the head, breast, and rump, it seems a strange part of the bird to highlight in the English name.
Checking Clements’ and IOC checklists (I might point out that the latter has retained “Southern Yellow Grosbeak” for P. chrysogaster, and “Mexican Yellow Grosbeak” for P. chrysopeplus), and a Google search (just to cover my bases), I see that the simpler, and (I would argue) more apt name “Golden Grosbeak” is not already in use for any “grosbeak” in the world. Thus, I propose that the less useful name “Golden-bellied Grosbeak” simply drop “-bellied” and become the more elegant “Golden Grosbeak.” This better describes the extent of yellow plumage of the species, better distinguishes it from the widely sympatric Black-backed Grosbeak, and removes the confusion regarding the fact that both P. chrysogaster and P. aureoventris translate to “Golden-bellied.”
Recommendation: I know that SACC generally prefers stability in English names, but this is one case where I think the presently used name “Golden-bellied” is not accurate and is open to too much confusion, and therefore really is a terrible English name for the reasons I outline above. The modified name “Golden” removes this confusion without drastically altering the name. I believe such a modification will be a welcome improvement.
Dan Lane, March 2014
Comments from Stiles: “YES. Here, I would point out that there is a difference between “field-guide taxonomy” and “field-guide-type changes” for English names. While I agree that conservatism is well justified on the taxonomic front and taxonomic changes (e. g., splitting up species) require solid evidence, the same does not apply with the same rigor to English names. While in a minority on the committee in several cases, I think that changes in such names (often coined by people with little or no experience with the birds in the field, especially in South America) can be beneficial. After all, the people that most need and use English names are visitors to South America using field guides, not local people (especially, local ornithologists)! Especially when a better, more evocative name has already received widespread use, including in international publications (the “whitestart” case and the IOC use of it comes to mind), stability in the long run might not be favored by maintaining the older, less appropriate name. To the extent that the purpose of having English names should be to facilitate field identification, with the proviso that they not conflict with taxonomic evidence, I will continue to favor such changes. Although the name proposed here has no historical momentum, it clearly does help to reduce confusion in identifying these grosbeaks and will likely find rapid acceptance among those using field guides.”
Comments from Remsen: “YES. I usually vote against any name change that creates instability, but in this particular case, (1) there hasn’t been much stability to begin with, much less consensus, and (2) Dan’s proposed change minimizes the degree of change while reducing the misleading nature of the older one.”
Comments from Zimmer: “YES, for reasons well stated in the proposal. This one was in bad need of a name change. And, I agree with Gary on his major points regarding English names.”
Comments from Robbins: “YES. The simplified English name change makes good sense.”