Proposal (161) to South American Classification Committee


Change spellings of certain English names to follow American, not British, spellings


Effect on South American CL: this proposal would convert the spellings of words in English names of our species from the British spelling to the USA spelling.


Background: Doug Pratt and Paul Clapham have pointed out to me that if we use "American" rather than British spellings for English bird names that involve "gray" and "coloured," then we should be consistent and convert the spellings of a few lesser known words to the American version. In the Western Hemisphere we typically (but not always) use the preferred American spelling over the British spelling, e.g. "Gray Antwren" rather than "Grey Antwren", etc., "Checker-throated Antwren" rather than "Checquer-throated Antwren", and "Many-colored" rather than "Many-coloured," etc.


Certain exceptions, however, exist, presumably perpetuated by whatever the first usage was. These are (as collected by Doug Pratt):





We have consistent usage of the American spelling for the following, more commonly used pairs:




The names affected by the change would be as follows:


Aratinga mitrata, Mitred Parakeet

Malacoptila mystacalis, Moustached Puffbird
Xiphocolaptes falcirostris, Moustached Woodcreeper
Myrmotherula ignota, Moustached Antwren
Grallaria alleni, Moustached Antpitta
Pteroptochos megapodius, Moustached Turca
Thryothorus genibarbis, Moustached Wren
Diglossa mystacalis, Moustached Flowerpiercer
Atlapetes albofrenatus, Moustached Brush-Finch

Leptotila ochraceiventris, Ochre-bellied Dove
Picumnus temminckii, Ochre-collared Piculet
Schizoeaca coryi, Ochre-browed Thistletail
Synallaxis scutata, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail
Philydor lichtensteini, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner
Drymophila ochropyga, Ochre-rumped Antbird
Grallaria dignissima, Ochre-striped Antpitta
Grallaricula flavirostris, Ochre-breasted Antpitta
Eugralla paradoxa, Ochre-flanked Tapaculo
Mionectes oleagineus, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Poecilotriccus plumbeiceps, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher
Muscisaxicola flavinucha, Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant
Anthus nattereri, Ochre-breasted Pipit
Chlorothraupis stolzmanni, Ochre-breasted Tanager
Atlapetes semirufus, Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch

Campylopterus largipennis, Gray-breasted Sabrewing
Campylopterus hyperythrus
, Rufous-breasted Sabrewing
Campylopterus ensipennis, White-tailed Sabrewing
Campylopterus falcatus, Lazuline Sabrewing
Campylopterus phainopeplus, Santa Marta Sabrewing
Campylopterus villaviscensio, Napo Sabrewing
Campylopterus duidae, Buff-breasted Sabrewing

Aphantochroa cirrochloris, Sombre Hummingbird

Cranioleuca sulphurifera, Sulphur-throated Spinetail
Mecocerculus minor, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet
Myiobius barbatus, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Myiodynastes luteiventris, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Tyrannopsis sulphurea, Sulphury Flycatcher
Neopelma sulphureiventer, Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin
Sicalis taczanowskii, Sulphur-throated Finch


Analysis: As for the pros and cons of British vs. American spellings, let's not get bogged down in politics, or how much British influence there is within South America, and so on. I really do not care myself. I can see arguments for maintaining the current British spellings for historical consistency within each species, but I can also see the argument for consistency throughout the list. One point in favor of the American spellings is that they are typically simpler and more phonetic, thus easier to decipher for non-English-first speakers. At least our current SACC spellings are consistent within a given word pair, e.g. all species' names that use "mustached" are spelled "Moustached."


Through personal ignorance, I have often been confused by the contrast between typical spellings of "mustache" and "sulfur" in American English versus the spellings in our bird names ... to the point of using the bird name version (British) in my regular prose; for example, as a furnariidophile, until recently I did not realize that there was any other way to spell "ochre". (Also, for many years, I had no clue what "Mitred" was or its correct pronunciation, having heard well-informed birders refer to the "My - tread" Parakeet.)


Recommendation: Although there is a chance that Earth will continue to rotate on its axis under the current mix of British and American spellings, with minimal conviction I vote YES because I think we should maintain consistency throughout if only to minimize confusion for easily confused people like me.


Van Remsen (with provocations by American Doug Pratt and Canadian Paul Clapham), January 2005





Comments from Schulenberg: "NO. I'm not aware that the use of a British spelling for these names has caused any great harm over the decades that they have been in use, nor any sign that any more than a small minority even recognizes that there is a problem ("crisis"?).


"I will admit that it can be difficult to decipher the pronunciation of the English name for Aratinga mitrata. The problem, in my view, is not with the spelling, however, but with the word itself. I know all about the miter (a type of hat), even though I "never" have occasion to use the word; and I can fathom some relationship between the hat and the head of Aratinga mitrata. What seems odd is creating an adjective from an uncommonly used noun, resulting in a "word" that is guaranteed to be unfamiliar to many if not most speakers of English. But this has little to do with which spelling we use. Of the two, "Mitred" looks odd but to my eyes "Mitered" is punkass ugly, so I am not in any hurry to change."


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO.  I must admit that I am confused by this proposal, the list of birds affected which are given in the proposal would have the spellings of their names changed right? If that is the case, then this would definitely confuse people. Or are we voting to accept those as the final spellings we will use? I would rather live with a mix of American and non-American spelling and just use the status quo spelling for each, in a case by case basis. So no, I do not want to write Mitered Parakeet, as to me the status quo is Mitred. 


“I do think that spelling is dependent on the place you are using the name. So, Canadians are not incorrectly spelling Clay-coloured Sparrow, that is fine with me. Now the official list can be Clay-colored Sparrow, but place specific spelling of certain words will be the prerogative of the user, or journal editor. So, if in Guyana they want to spell something different than our list, that is fine. Given that I believe in this cultural flexibility of spelling, I don't mind inconsistent spelling on our list as long as we stick to the status quo spelling in the major recent field guides, avifaunal treatises, Peters etc."


Comments from Stiles: "NO. Seems hardly worth the trouble. We've lived for decades, if not centuries, with English names of mixed parentage with no severe misunderstandings that I'm aware of and these are used in so many places that it borders on fetishism to change them. If we're consistent with any given name (i.e., no "mustache" slips in among the "moustaches"), that's good enough for me."


Comments from Pacheco: "NO. Nesta situação, ainda que um tanto hesitante, prefiro acompanhar as opiniões / justificativas de Schulenberg, Jaramillo e Stiles."


Comments from Silva: "NO. This is a hard decision for me, because I have never used English names (Latins names are so easy!!!). However, I would prefer to maintain the traditional English spelling if they were first used to name a species."


Comments from Zimmer: "NO. As others have pointed out, as long as we are consistent in the spelling of particular names (e.g. Moustached, or Checkered), I don't see a problem in having a mix of English and American spellings over the entire spectrum of English names. At this point, the confusion over switching spelling would seem to present a bigger downside than the upside of having a uniformly American convention."


Comments from Robbins: "NO. Quite frankly, I could care less on how we deal with this. I think we just need to be consistent on how our and the AOU, committee use English names."


Comments from Nores: "NO, aunque no demasiado convencido. Coincido con Silva en que los nombres latinos son muy fáciles y que yo raramente uso los nombres en inglés. De todos modos, como opinan muchos de los miembros, parece mejor mantener los nombres ingleses ya que el cambio produciría probablemente más confusiones que beneficios."