Proposal (579) to South American Classification Committee


Change the English names of Chlorospingus species from “Bush-Tanager” to “Chlorospingus”


         The English name “tanager” no longer has any phylogenetic meaning now that Piranga, Habia, and Chlorothraupis are now in the Cardinalidae, Chlorospingus is now in the Emberizidae, and Rhodinocichla and Mitrospingus are definitely not members of the Thraupidae.  In my opinion, the term “tanager” is best regarded as a vaguely defined ecomorph, one in which the bill is too thick to be called a “warbler” and to thin to be called a “finch” or “grosbeak”.  It thus joins most other English names of New World 9-primaried oscines in carrying no exclusive taxonomic significance, at least at the global level, e.g., warbler, redstart, chat, finch, sparrow, bunting, grosbeak, cardinal, seedeater, blackbird, and oriole.


         However, I think we could eliminate one of the “problems” by changing the English names of the Chlorospingus Bush-Tanagers to “Chlorospingus”.  As reluctant as I am to meddle with traditional names, this change has five advantages: (1) eliminates the only “Tanager” English names in the Emberizidae, (2) reduces by one the number of non-thraupid families that include species called “tanagers”; (3) eliminates a misleading name – the Chlorospingus species I’m familiar with don’t really have anything to do with “bushes” per se; (4) prevents confusion with the unrelated Cnemoscopus rubrirostris, the Gray-hooded Bush Tanager; and (5) avoids our having to officially change the English name from “Bush-Tanager” to “Bush-tanager” because it is no longer a true tanager, which itself could be controversial given that “Tanager” is no longer restricted to Thraupidae.  If we keep the names as they are, we would have misleading names such as “Common Bush [not really]-tanager [definitely not].”


         We already use “Hemispingus” as an English name for Hemispingus tanagers and Chlorophonia for Chlorophonia finches, and so the roots and structure of the new English name would be familiar and pronounceable (i.e. be thankful we’re not dealing with Schistochlamys, Catamblyrhynchus, or my personal favorite, Periporphyrus).  Also note that NACC changed the English names of the Spindalis group from “Tanager” to “Spindalis” to take care of an analogous problem.


Van Remsen, May 2013





Comments from Stiles: “YES. There are all sorts of precedents for this sort of move (using the Latin name as an English generic name), and this also obviates the need for another boring hyphen as in "Bush-tanager".


Comments from Zimmer:  YES, for all of the reasons cited by Van in the proposal.  It will take a little getting used to saying “Common Chlorospingus” but I can live with that.  In general, I favor such moves (substituting the Latin generic name for a misleading or inaccurate English group name) – much as I’d hate to see them go, I could easily support a similar move with the various members of Piranga.”


Comments from Cadena: “I usually do not comment on these, but I find this change unnecessary. I think we can live with bush-tanagers even if these birds are not tanagers just as we can live with antpittas not being pittas or antwrens not being wrens.”


Comments from Stotz: “YES Personally, I don’t like the groundswell of support for turning generic names into the English name of species.  Yes we have cases where that has been done, some old enough that I can’t even imagine what else you would call the bird, but for the most part I don’t favor this approach.  However, Bush-Tanager is full of problems and I have no reasonable alternatives, as much as I love the idea of calling these birds Bush-not-really-tanager-definitely-nots.”