Proposal (857x) to South American Classification Committee



Adopt NACC guidelines for English names


This is a reorganization of the original proposal into sections to more easily focus on problem areas:


Principles and Procedures:

A1. Stability of English names

A2. Name change procedures


General Rules for Names

B1. Orthography

B2. Uniqueness

B3. Length of names

B4. Eponyms

B5. Geographical Names

B6. Species marginally distributed in South America


New and modified names based on changes to classification

C1. Typical species splits

C1.1. Exceptions (to typical species splits)– relative range sizes

C1.2. Exceptions (to typical species splits)–differential usage

C1.3. Relative appropriateness

C2. Other species splits

C3. Species lumps

C4. Reallocation of taxa at higher taxonomic levels


Special Considerations

D1. Eponyms

D1.1. Ethical standards

D1.2 Historical association

D2. Foreign language names

D3. Derogatory or otherwise offensive names


A YES vote on each section indicates approval of the statement (or approval with minor, suggested rewording).  A NO votes indicates that the section is not acceptable, even with minor rewording, and is accompanied by rationale for objection.  It is understood that “NACC” is to be replaced with SACC throughout, and that examples provided will be changed to ones more appropriate for SACC where needed.





Comments from Remsen: “In general, we need guidelines and policies for obvious reasons, e.g. we can refer to these specifically in proposals for new English names.

“A1. YES.  One of the main reasons for a formalized standard list of vernacular names is that they have a good chance of being more stable over time than scientific binomials, which are designed to change with new information on classification and, occasionally, nomenclature. Stability, therefore, should be the primary, but not only, consideration.  Otherwise, the temptation to “improve” names based on subjective criteria would lead to an endless process.  That said, Gary, Nacho, and others have pointed out that we might be more flexible than NACC on this given that Meyer de Schauensee (1966) was the first standardized list of English names for South American birds, and that it was not subject to the constant review that NACC names have been since the late 1800s.  Further, the only countries within the SACC region for which English is the primary language are Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.  Thus, due to a shorter time period of use and a much smaller literature that has used them, I don’t think we should dig in our heels the way North Americans fight to retain entrenched yet absurd names like Inca Dove, Pelagic Cormorant, Mountain Plover, Evening Grosbeak, Pelagic Cormorant, and others.

“A2. YES.  Given A1 in addition to changes required by changes in species limits, a formal procedure for changes must be established.  Although sometimes laborious, a formal process with open exchange of ideas, as well as input from outside the Committee, should typically produce the best outcome.  (However, we all know from combat experience in this arena that some portion of the users of English names will be disgruntled no matter what name is chosen.)

“B1. YES.  This is the standard AOS system, and as far as caps go, standard in birds.  I am baffled by why other animal and plant lists don’t adopt the same system; likewise, journal and article editors.  These are formal, proper names just like place names, and the caps remove ambiguity.  As for hyphenated group names, they also reduce ambiguity, and statements that they are not grammatically correct are nonsense – see my diatribe on this.  Breaking with AOS/NACC on this is not feasible, in my opinion.

“B2. YES. Obviously.

“B3. YES. Common sense.

“B4. YES, but only to stay in line with NACC, which recently voted down a proposal to remove possessive hyphens.  Personally, I think they are unnecessary, but I can live with them for the sake of stability, including at the international level, and for the rare ambiguity their removal would cause, e.g. “White Thrush” for White’s Thrush (Zoothera aurea).

“B5. YES.  The inconsistency in formation of bird names using place names isn’t really worth trying to fix or legislate in my opinion --- “just deal with it.”

“B6. YES.  In general this seems wise, and because it is a guideline, not a rule, we have some wiggle room here.

“C1. YES.  Note that this a guideline, not a rule, with reasonable exceptions granted below.  This has been SOP for AOU/AOS for most of its history, and the rationale for it, as outlined in the Solitary Vireo example below, is sensible.

“C1.1a. YES.  Differences in relative range size is a continuum, so borderline cases are inevitable (for example, our different assessments of relative range size in the Thamnistes English name proposal.

“C1.1b. YES.  More wiggle room (and the only way to defend Option 2 in the Thamnistes proposal).

“C1.1c. YES.  Additional wiggle room for the occasional problem case such as in the Winter Wren example.

“C2. YES.  We already use this to retain entrenched names when the species were incorrectly considered conspecific.

“C3. YES – the sensible mirror image.

“C4. YES.  Slippery slope territory, but in practice we’ve been following this.

“D1. YES.

“D1.1. YES.  Controversial and with extreme “slippery slope” danger, but I think we should have a mechanism to dump eponyms in cases in which the person was a despicable character by the standards of that era.  Note that this specifically excludes judging mores of a past era by current standards.  It think it is safe to assume that almost every person for whom a bird was named from a hundred or more years ago made statements that would be unacceptable by current standards.  That’s just social progress.  By extension, I think it is safe to assume that statements or actions that we all consider acceptable in 2020 will be judged as unacceptable a century from now. 

“D1.2. YES.  Makes sense.  At the practical level for SACC, this might arise when we consider whether to resurrect a historically used eponym: if the person so honored had absolutely nothing to do with the species or the ornithology of that region, then I would be in favor of inventing a new, descriptive or geographic name.

“D2. YES, although I’m not sure how appropriate or necessary this is for SACC.  We already use many indigenous names or derivations from them to the point that they have actually become English words, e.g. jacana, tanager, etc.  I suppose this would apply to use if someone named a new species using only a local indigenous name without reference to congeners or confamilials, rather calling it a Something Tanager (for example).  On the other hand, if someone discovered a highly distinctive species for which at least a new genus needs to be named, I see no reason not to consider using a colorful, local name for it.  Regardless, we can “cross that bridge when we come to it” if the situation arises.

“D3. YES.  Common sense.”


Comments from Claramunt: “YES to all.  Again, the rules are clear, sensible, and flexible where they need to be.”


Comments from Areta: “We cannot just import NACC criteria to SACC. We need to think (somewhat) differently because we deal with a different avifauna on a different continent, even when we also aim for a good, long-term, stable, body of names. Among the many differences, names have a different history of usage, we are still finding and describing new species at an astonishing rate, we deal with the richest avifauna in the World, our taxonomy is still experiencing drastic changes at all levels, etc. So, just using the same template and making minor adjustments might not work. We need to modify some of the substance as well.


“Common English names are important to the general public interested in birds, birdwatchers, conservationists and scientists. I would like to stress the importance to scientists. Modern editorial practices in the vast majority of journals (at least in English and Spanish journals) demand that, unless a paper is dealing specifically with taxonomic aspects, scientific names be provided on the first bird mention and then keep using the common name (sometimes scientific names appear just once, because they are never provided again in figures or legends!). This can (and often does) create a para-scientific communication system heavily used by scientists. So, having to deal with papers referring to Black-and-Rufous, Red-and-White, Chestnut, Reddish and Brownish Whatevers does demand an important extra effort for scientists, who have to switch from scientific to common names regularly and sometimes travel through papers dealing with many species to find where on earth is the first mention of that bird. Worse still, many journals/authors decide to apply different coding systems to avoid using the lengthy common names, so we have things like four-letter codes ROWO (Robust Woodpecker, Campephilus robustus), BCBE (Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Geranoaetus melanoleucus) and other paper-specific coding chimaeras. If science was based mostly on using scientific names, by for example mentioning the common name at the beginning and then using scientific names, I would agree in their relative lack of importance for scientific duties; but this is not what happens. In sum, scientific names are not used with the intensity and when they should by scientists, because for a set of reasons (that are debatable), common names are comfortably installed in the scientific literature. How this came to be the case is possibly complex, but this is where we are standing today. So, I consider common English names as an issue to be dealt with by scientists as well


“Principles and Procedures:

A1. Stability of English names --- YES, but with many more degrees of freedom than NACC, for the reasons nicely outlined by Gary in the explanation for his abstention. This section would demand the addition of several of Gary´s arguments to be acceptable to me. We are not in a position to claim such a long history of stability and I think that looking into the future is good. There are several names out there that have been to use to some degree and which really represent marked improvements, even if adopting them cause some minor instability for a short time. I am not advocating for a massive change of names just because I don´t like them, but alternative names should be evaluated when they exist and when they are deemed to improve usefulness either by helping in field ID, when reducing confusion to similar names or when highlighting unique aspects. So, I am ready to look with fresh eyes and give a chance to alternative names that are out there, at least for a window of time. Striking balance between stasis and change can be difficult, but what I want to say is that we need to be more flexible than NACC in some cases.

A2. Name change procedures --- YES (although perhaps this needs some modification: one thing is to change a pre-existing name, for which 2/3 might be good given the potential instability associated, but to adopt a new name for a split or newly described species, I am more leaned towards a simple majority as stated in point 7 in my previous vote).


General Rules for Names

B1. Orthography --- YES

B2. Uniqueness --- YES

B3. Length of names --- YES

B4. Eponyms --- YES

B5. Geographical Names --- YES

B6. Species marginally distributed in South America --- YES


“New and modified names based on changes to classification

C1. Typical species splits --- NO, major overhaul needed to accommodate the South American avifauna. I oppose to separating "typical" from "atypical" splits.

C1.1a. Exceptions (to typical species splits)– relative range sizes --- --- NO, major overhaul needed to accommodate the South American avifauna.

C1.1b. Exceptions (to typical species splits)–differential usage --- --- NO, major overhaul needed to accommodate the South American avifauna.

C1.1c. Relative appropriateness --- NO

C2. Other species splits --- NO

C3. Species lumps --- NO

C4. Reallocation of taxa at higher taxonomic levels --- YES


“I justified my NO votes on these before (see points 1-4, and 6 in my previous vote)”


“Special Considerations

D1. Eponyms --- Looking at the past from the present is a complex issue that should demand extremely careful scrutiny. It is clear that most eponyms across the Americas stand for white males (which were often actively involved in collection of specimens, a prime tool to gather knowledge then and now). This eponymic imbalance is the product of a historical way of doing things that is now being questioned. I fully agree with these questionings and firmly believe in the need of plurality in science in particular and in the World in general. However, the emphasis on changing bird names is from my perspective misguided and is far from a solution to the base problems. These names contain part of the history we want to question, and history should be studied, understood and put in perspective, not simply erased. I am not particularly concerned about the extant eponyms in the South American avifauna (I have not detected anything utterly offensive) or with eponyms at all, this seems more like a pour la galerie witch-hunt than a move aiming at some deep, real change (the roots of the problems are not in old names, but rather on current and inherited practices). I am more concerned about the lack of eponyms reflecting more pluralism in the modern era: the reasons for this rest, I think, on the current scientific practices and in how the World is structured. This, however, is a thorny issue that demands a separate debate (and deep changes).

         I think that before deciding on how deep we will delve on this, and how to treat this topic, we would need to know: a) How many eponyms do we have in the SACC area? b) How many of such eponyms are suspected of referring to people with questionable ethical standards? and c) Based on whose ethical standards? To what degree of involvement/protagonism in a conflictive issue does an eponym deserves elimination?

D1.1. Ethical standards --- I would modify this to read "highly unusual circumstances".

D1.2 Historical association --- It makes sense that eponyms are mostly related to ornithological matters, but I am not averse to the usage of eponyms for other people that played an important role in, say, conservation of a certain area from where a species is known and things like that, which are not strictly ornithological.

D2. Foreign language names --- NO? We are dealing with a different avifauna, and thus applying names drawing terms from local languages, which refer to local names, local practices and local ideas should be welcome, especially for splits and newly described taxa. Thus, I think that this needs to be moderated and toned down, to be more accommodating of the South American reality. See also point 5 in my previous vote.

D3. Derogatory or otherwise offensive names --- YES. Derogatory or offensive names must be avoided. Get ready to let Tapaculo go?”

Comments from Lane

“Principles and Procedures:

A1&2. YES

General Rules for Names

B1-6. YES

New and modified names based on changes to classification

C1. Typical species splits: YES

C1.1. Exceptions (to typical species splits)– relative range sizes: YES

C1.2. Exceptions (to typical species splits)–differential usage: YES

C1.3. Relative appropriateness: NO. I actually am not pleased with the retention of Winter Wren in the face of the split of Troglodytes troglodytes as it results in a fair amount of confusion over the senu stricto/sensu lato usage. That was a case where I think a new name should have been created (“Canada Wren” maybe?). Similar situations in South America should be handled with new daughter names too.

C2. Other species splits: YES

C3. Species lumps: YES

C4. Reallocation of taxa at higher taxonomic levels: YES

Special Considerations

D1. Eponyms: YES

D1.1. Ethical standards: YES

D1.2 Historical association: YES

D2. Foreign language names: NO. Since little of our region of coverage contains native English speakers, it seems likely, if not inevitable, that bird names using non-English etymologies will be established. These can be Spanish, Portuguese, native languages or of pidgin origin. We already have many common names from these etymological origins (Jacana, Anhinga, Macaw, Tapaculo, Canastero, Hornero, Gravateiro, etc.) and few if any have been difficult for English speakers to handle. These are certainly no more difficult to pronounce than names based on scientific (e.g., genus) names!

D3. Derogatory or otherwise offensive names: YES”







Proposal (857) to South American Classification Committee



Adopt NACC guidelines for English names


Currently, our official stance on English names is as follows (from our introductory pages):


English names: The English names used by SACC follow those in Dickinson (2003), which in turn generally followed those used by Meyer de Schauensee (1970) and AOU (1998) for New World species.  Several, however, have been changed subsequently from Dickinson (2003) through the proposal mechanism.  Alternative English names are given if they have appeared in reference literature since 1900.  SACC follows the published guidelines for English names and their orthography as noted in AOU (1983: xxi-xxii) and references therein.  See SACC policy on use diacritical marks (accents, cedillas, tildes).


Thus, we follow the guidelines in the 1983 AOU Checklist.  NACC has now revised these guidelines and posted them at the NACC website:


Here is the text:



American Ornithological Society (AOS)

Committee on Classification and Nomenclature: North and Middle America (NACC)

3 June 2020


Guidelines for English bird names


The American Ornithological Society’s North American Classification Committee (NACC) has long held responsibility for arbitrating the official names of birds that occur within its area of geographic coverage. Scientific names used are in accordance with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN 1999); the committee has no discretion to modify scientific names that adhere to ICZN rules. English names for species are developed and maintained in keeping with the following guidelines, which are used when forming English names for new or recently split species and when considering proposals to change established names for previously known species:


A. Principles and Procedures


1.   Stability of English names. The NACC recognizes that there are substantial benefits to nomenclatural stability and that long-established English names should only be changed after careful deliberation and for good cause. As detailed in AOU (1983), NACC policy is to “retain well established names for well-known and widely distributed species, even if the group name or a modifier is not precisely accurate, universally appropriate, or descriptively the best possible.” The NACC has long interpreted this policy as a caution against the ever-present temptation to ‘improve’ well-established English names and this remains an important principle. In practice, this means that proposals to the NACC advocating a change to a long-established English name must present a strongly compelling, well-researched, and balanced rationale.


2.   Name change procedures. The NACC process of considering an English name change is the same as for other nomenclatural topics. NACC deliberations are proposal-based, and the committee welcomes proposals from interested members of the professional and non-professional ornithological communities. Proposals from previous years, which may be useful as models, are posted online, as are general instructions for proposal preparation and submission. Proposals to change an established English name require a 2/3 vote in favor for passage, following the committee’s long-standing policy for all proposals.


B. General Rules for Names


1.   Orthography. English names of birds are capitalized in keeping with standard ornithological practice. As noted by Parkes (1978), capitalization also prevents ambiguity between a species name and a description in such cases as “gray flycatcher” or “solitary sandpiper”. Diacritical marks are not used in English names. With respect to the use of hyphens, the committee follows Parkes (1978).


2.   Uniqueness. The English name of every species (and of named groups within species) should be unique both within the NACC region and, with occasional exceptions, globally.


3.   Length of names. Names may consist of a single word or more than one word. However, modifiers must be used for single word or group names that apply to more than one species. Thus, Gray Catbird is used for Dumetella carolinensis rather than Catbird because there are other species of catbird (e.g., the closely related Black Catbird Melanoptila glabrirostris and eleven distantly related species of catbirds in the family Ptilonorhynchidae).


4.   Eponyms. Eponyms, names that incorporate the name of an individual historical person, add an apostrophe “s” ending (e.g., Baird’s Sparrow, Lucy’s Warbler). Eponyms already ending in “s” also add an apostrophe “s” (e.g., Xantus’s Hummingbird).


5.   Geographical names. Names based on geography may use either the adjectival (e.g., Jamaican Woodpecker) or noun (e.g., Canada Warbler) form of a name, but names should be used consistently for each geographical entity.


6.   Species marginally distributed in North America.  Names generally accepted by global or regional authorities are typically used for species that occur in our area as vagrants, introduced species, or species of otherwise marginal distribution.


C. New and modified names based on changes to classification


1. Typical species splits. In the case of true phylogenetic daughter species formerly treated as a single parental species, the usual policy is to create new names for each daughter species. For example, the split of Solitary Vireo resulted in new names for each of the three daughter species (Blue-headed, Cassin’s, and Plumbeous) rather than retention of Solitary Vireo for one of the daughters. This practice is designed to prevent confusion in the literature as to what taxonomic entity the parental name (e.g., Solitary Vireo) references. Note that this differs from the procedure used for scientific names, which mandates (via ICZN) that the name of the nominate form remain unchanged. In support of the principle of stability, the choice of new names strongly considers existing names for the daughter species in widely used older literature (e.g., Ridgway and Friedmann 1901-1946) as well as any names proposed for the new species in publications supporting the change in species limits.


1.1       Exceptions. Strong association of names with particular daughter species may provide exceptions to the above policy. In these situations, a change to the English name of one daughter species would cause much more disruption than a change to that of the other daughter species. In these cases, the potential confusion of retaining the parental name for the daughter species strongly associated with the name is weighed against the potential disruption of changing the name. Overall, the goal is to maximize stability and minimize disruption to the extent possible. The committee uses various factors to assess potential differential impact, such as major differences in range size, differences in usage in the scientific and popular literature, and relative appropriateness of a name. The Committee recognizes that such judgments are subjective and that borderline cases will inevitably occur.


1.1.a. Relative range size. In many cases, relative range size is an excellent proxy for the differential effect of a name change. When one or more new daughter species are essentially peripheral isolates or have similarly small ranges compared to the other daughter species, then the parental name is often retained for the widespread, familiar daughter species to maintain stability. For example, the English name Red-winged Blackbird was retained for the widespread species Agelaius phoeniceus when the Cuban subspecies A. phoeniceus assimilis was elevated to species rank, and a novel English name (Red-shouldered Blackbird) was adopted only for the daughter species A. assimilis.


1.1.b. Differential usage. In some cases, a name is much more associated with one daughter species regardless of relative range size. For example, the name Clapper Rail has been consistently associated with birds of the eastern US and Caribbean for over a century, whereas populations in South America and in the western US and Mexico were known by various other names before being grouped under the name Clapper Rail. In this case, despite the extensive range of the South American daughter species (Rallus longirostris), the name Clapper Rail was retained for eastern North American daughter species (R. crepitans) when the species was split into three, with Mangrove Rail applied to the daughter in South America and Ridgway's Rail to that in the southwestern US and adjacent Mexico (R. obsoletus).


1.1.c. Relative appropriateness. In some cases, a parental name is much more appropriate for one of the daughter species. In such cases, especially when no truly appropriate substitute name can be found, a parental name can be retained for that daughter. For example, in the case of the split of Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), the parental name Winter Wren was retained for the migratory eastern species, whereas the novel name Pacific Wren was created for the largely resident western species (T. pacificus). In this case the retained English name of the eastern species hiemalis also reflects its scientific name, which means “of winter” (Jobling 2010).


2. Other species splits. In the case of a change in species limits due to incorrect previous assessment of relationships, then the parental English name may be retained for the appropriate species, especially if no other suitable name is available. This differs from 1 above in that the changes do not involve true parent-daughter splits in the phylogenetic sense but rather a correction of previous taxonomy. For example, when Galapagos Shearwater was split from Audubon’s Shearwater, the name Audubon’s was not changed because new data revealed that Galapagos was not its sister and should never have been considered conspecific with Audubon’s in the first place; therefore, the original classification, with both species treated as separate species with their original separate names, was restored.


3. Species lumps. The committee occasionally merges two or more species into a single species. Guidelines for English names that result from lumps generally mirror those for species splits, in that a new name is generally preferred unless the exceptions for relative range size or appropriateness (as above in C.1.1 and C.1.2) apply. In practice, many lumps involve species with a great disparity in geographical range, so that in many cases the name for the more widespread former species is retained for the merged species. In a case in which the lump represents a return to species limits recognized prior to a split (i.e., in a reversal of a split), then the original name for the pre-split species is again adopted (in some cases this is the name of one of the former daughter species).


4. Reallocation of taxa at higher taxonomic levels. In the case of reallocation of taxa at the family or genus level due to new phylogenetic data, the Committee may occasionally change the group name of a species to reflect more accurately its phylogenetic relationships. A classic example is the change of the English name of the species formerly known as Upland Plover to Upland Sandpiper (to restrict the group name “plover” to the Charadriidae). Such changes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with assessment of the cost of loss of stability versus the benefit of increasing phylogenetic information in the name. Note that many English group names do not have phylogenetic significance even at the family level (e.g. flycatcher, warbler, finch, sparrow, tanager, grosbeak, and bunting) and are best treated as morphotypes. Thus, changes to long-standing names of this type (e.g., Scarlet Tanager) to correspond to changes in family or genus allocation generally require special circumstances. Again, the Committee recognizes that the inevitable subjectivity in these situations will create borderline situations.


D. Special Considerations


1.   Eponyms. At present, 142 English names of NACC bird species are eponyms. The NACC recognizes that some eponyms refer to individuals or cultures who held beliefs or engaged in actions that would be considered offensive or unethical by present-day standards. These situations create a need for criteria to evaluate whether a long-established eponym is sufficiently harmful by association to warrant its change. After substantial deliberation and consultation, the NACC has adopted the following guidelines:


1.1 The NACC will change well-established eponyms only in unusual circumstances, but these situations may occur. The NACC recognizes that many individuals for whom birds are named were products of their times and cultures, and that this creates a gradient of disconnection between their actions and beliefs and our present-day mores. By itself, affiliation with a now-discredited historical movement or group is likely not sufficient for the NACC to change a long-established eponym. In contrast, the active engagement of the eponymic namesake in reprehensible events could serve as grounds for changing even long-established eponyms, especially if these actions were associated with the individual’s ornithological career. The NACC recognizes that opinions will often differ on how best to handle such situations, and the Committee strives to strike a balance that recognizes the principle of nomenclatural stability while respecting circumstances in which names should be reconsidered to reflect present-day ethical principles or to avoid ongoing harm.


1.2 In evaluating potential changes to eponyms, the NACC will also consider the degree of historical association between the eponym and the species it describes. Some eponyms are purely honorific in that they refer to an individual with no close association to their namesake species or to ornithology in general. Other eponyms refer to the individual who first discovered or collected that species, or to individuals who contributed substantially to advances in our discipline. These latter names have a tighter historical and ornithological affiliation and therefore a higher level of merit for retention.


2.   Foreign-language names. As stated in AOU (1983), “vernacular names derived from a language other than English may be adopted when these are well established and not inappropriate.” For example, the endemic Hawaiian avifauna includes many species for which Hawaiian-language names are well established, and most of these have been incorporated into the AOS Checklist. However, in situations in which no historical Hawaiian-language name is known, the NACC will generally give precedence to an established English-derived name over a Hawaiian-language neologism. Similar principles apply to names derived from non-English languages elsewhere within the NACC area.


3.   Derogatory or otherwise offensive names. English bird names that clearly denigrate any group or class of people, or which would be generally considered offensive by present-day standards, may be changed for this reason alone. For example, the English name of the duck formerly known as Oldsquaw was changed to Long-tailed Duck in the 42nd Supplement (AOU 2000). The associated text of that supplement reads in part “The Committee declines to consider political correctness alone in changing long-standing English names of birds but is willing in this instance to adopt an alternative name that is in use in much of the world.” The present policy document revises this approach to acknowledge that there may be English names that cause sufficient offense to warrant change on that basis alone. The committee will consider the degree and scope of offensiveness under present-day social standards as part of its deliberations. The NACC acknowledges that some words or terms may become secondarily offensive, even when they were not originally intended as derogatory, and sometimes even when there is no direct etymological link between the original name and its now-offensive connotation.




American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th ed. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU). 2000. Forty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 117: 847–858.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). 1999. International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, 4th edition. International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London.

Jobling, J. A. 2010. Helm dictionary of scientific bird names. Christopher Helm, London.

Parkes, K. C. 1978. A guide to forming and capitalizing compound names of birds in English. Auk 95: 324-326.

Ridgway, R., and H. Friedmann. 1901-1946. The birds of North and Middle America. Bulletin US National Museum 50, parts 1-10.




I recommend a “YES” vote to adopt the NACC guidelines as above, in principle, with minor modifications to do things like remove the Hawaiian names example.  We can then amend them, perhaps through the proposal system, as needed.  A YES vote may also be accompanied by suggested minor changes in your Comments.  For example, we follow a slightly less rigid policy on diacritical marks:  For the purposes of this proposal, a YES vote means to adopt in principal the NACC guidelines and then modify them in minor ways as needed.  In other words, YES means you’re in favor of using these as a starting point.


A “NO” vote means no change needed to current AOU 1983 text (of which I am trying to find an online version to avoid having to type it out) or that the above is unacceptable.  I’m grappling with the appropriate mechanism to modify the NACC statement in minor ways.


Remember that these are guidelines, not rules, written with all sorts of wiggle room for the inevitable quirky situations.  Although our English name proposals already follow the 1983 AOU guidelines, some accuse us of making whimsical decisions without bothering to check or read the proposal or our online comments, which typically reference these guidelines informally.  So, I think it is a good idea to formalize more directly the way we make decisions.



Van Remsen, May 2020




Comments from David Wiedenfeld: “Comment: I want to oppose in general the idea of accepting foreign-language names, although the language in Proposal 857 is probably ok. The interpretation of “well established” needs to be held to very closely, and hardened. 


“These are supposed to be English common names. I’m no English chauvinist, but accepting foreign-language names opens up a real bag of worms.


“Right now the fashion is to accept many Hawaiian-language names, because the native Hawaiians still speak that language and had names in that language for many of the native birds. If we start accepting those names, though, we run immediately into inconsistencies. Why do we accept Hawaiian-language names, but not Lakota? Or Cherokee? Or any of the many other native American/First Nations languages that are still spoken? How do we choose which ones we’ll accept and which ones we’ll reject? It affects spelling, too. Brazilians don’t call their country “Brazil,” they call it “Brasil.” So do we have to change the bird’s name to “Brasilian Merganser?” For migratory species, who takes precedence? Many migratory species spend more of their life on the wintering ground than in the US or Canada. So should we be calling it Chipe Amarilla?


“We are talking about English common names here, not local common names. To be consistent, we should use English names, where they exist, unless there is a well-established local name in the English-language literature. That should be a high bar.”


Comments from Craig Caldwell: “As an avid and non-professional birder, I have great interest in the selection of English names. (I'm also a minor contributor to SACC deliberations - two English name proposals, both passed after welcome modifications.) I support this proposal for two reasons. First, its content is well thought out and comprehensive yet flexible enough to allow logical deviations from the best practices. Second, it's much to the benefit of birders - the primary users of English names - that the NACC and SACC follow the same procedures as much as possible, and adopting this proposal gets closer to that end.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO. For perhaps a surprising reason. I think we should get out of the English Name business, both the NACC and the SACC. The committees do outstanding work in the work of taxonomy, the scientific part of the endeavor we are charged with. However, English Names are not the fun part for most of us, and not the part we are well suited to work on. In this committee it is particularly interesting as the end goal might be to have a majority Latin American group of researchers working on the taxonomy of Neotropical Birds. Many of the folks on this committee are already abstaining on this task of English Names as they are not native English speakers. This will become more common as the proportion of researchers who did not grow up with English as their first language increases. Why continue with a task that we can already see will be even more difficult to do in the future, that we do not always enjoy, that slows progress of proposals in the queue, and that we are perhaps not best suited to decide on. I suggest that instead of accepting new rules on English Names, that we suggest that a separate committee with a more mixed and diverse skill set take on English Names for both the NACC and SACC. It seems logical to me.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  I’ve read through the NACC guidelines carefully, and, in general, I think they do a very good job of laying out a logical framework for how to deal with English name changes.  As Van states in the Proposal, there is lots of wiggle room here, allowing for special circumstances (see, for example, Part C.  New and modified names based on changes to classification).  I would be opposed to adopting any “hard and fast” rules that wouldn’t allow for such wiggle room, but that is clearly NOT the case being considered here.  I think NACC’s guidelines for dealing with changes to eponyms strikes a reasonable balance between wanting to avoid offending large swaths of people by honoring truly reprehensible individuals on the one hand, versus the destabilizing effects of doing away with long established eponyms honoring individuals for their discoveries or contributions to the field on the other.  I’ve actually seen lots of chatter in recent on-line forums proposing to do away with ALL eponyms (and even birds named after specific states, or other geographic regions, unless they are exclusively endemic to those areas), which, frankly, I think is ridiculous [In one of these massive renaming exercises, there was actually a suggestion of renaming Accipiter cooperi as “Brutal Hawk”!].  One place where I think we would perhaps want to amend the NACC guidelines is Section D2 (Foreign-language names).  The challenges presented by indigenous Hawaiian names does not really concern us, and, I think, we would want to highlight examples from indigenous South American names in amending the NACC policy in this regard (see, also, Van’s comments regarding our less rigid policy concerning diacritical marks).  One thing that I don’t see mentioned in the NACC guidelines regarding “Foreign-language names” is any stand on adopting Latin/Greek Generic names as a group name in the English names of birds.  I personally like using the genus name as an “English” group name – I think it can be much more informative in cutting through the clutter and confusion of English group-names in highly speciose groups (such as flycatchers, tyrannulets, tanagers, etc.).  I’ve heard the objection put forth that by incorporating the scientific name of the genus as part of an English name, we are defeating the entire purpose of having English names.  But, that argument ignores the fact that there are any number of long-established “English” group names (and even some individual species names) that are, in fact, identical to the name of the genus (Vireo, Chlorophonia, Euphonias, Xenops, Donacobius, Tityra, Schiffornis, Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia, etc), and I don’t see anyone objecting to them.  Anyway, I do think it would be helpful if we amended the NACC guidelines to at least being open to such cases of adapting non-English names as English names.”


Comments from Areta: “NO. Mostly because I think the guidelines need important modifications to make them more suitable to the South American avifauna.


“While I agree with the general spirit of the guidelines, I would layout the facts differently:


“1) By starting Section C with what are supposed to be "typical splits", the guidelines focus too narrowly on supposedly typical splits that may, or may not be, so typical. We all can think of many cases in which splits did not involve more closely related species, and in many splits we do not even know what the relationships are (there is no mention on what to do in this case!). In any case, what is changing with a split is our concept of species limits, not necessarily of the topology of relationships among species. The conflation of phylogenetic relationships with species limits, inadvertently leads to thinking that names should reflect phylogenetic relationships in some (unclear and unspoken) manner, which we all also know does not apply to many current bird names: quite often, sisters do have different group names (e.g.,  Sylviorthorhynchus: wiretail, tit-spinetail, Limnoctites reedhaunter, spinetail; or different names altogether, as in many of the most popular birds with distinctive own names). So, I do not see any need or good reason for presenting "typical splits" vs "other splits", and I would instead focus on splits as such, regardless of fine-grained phylogenetic relationships. This does not mean that I advocate that phylogenetic relationships are not important, of course. But if we can live with spinetails in many different families, vultures that are extreme cases of evolutionary convergence, and many other such cases, worrying about whether two species are more closely related or not when looking for names, seems unfounded from my point of view. To conclude, there are no "true" splits: splits split whatever was put together under the same species, and in this sense they represent a clarification of the limits among those entities, regardless of their relationships. If we look into current common names, we will see tons of inconsistencies in this regard, heritage of a past in which phylogenetic relationships were not known.


“2) There might also be more informative ways of sorting the cases in section C. I suggest this one: a) two species splits, b) multiple-way species splits. Then, general recommendations can apply to them namely

   --- whether they are sister or not (in two-way splits) --- if sister, then see comment 3 below.

   --- whether they form an holophyletic clade or not (in multiple-way splits) --- if in an holophyletic clade, see comment 3 below

   --- what to do when the phylogenetic relationships are not known?! --- this is one of the reasons for which I think it is not really all that relevant whether the split is among sisters or not.

   --- whether the range of one (or more) is greater than the other one(s)

   --- whether the nominate/earlier named taxon should in general retain the common name (depending on the balance between other criteria, but as an ideal, and everything else being equal, I would say yes)


“3) I also wish to note that there is, in principle, an implicit clash between A1 (which advocates stability of well-established names) and C1 (which proposes changing both/all names for "sister/within clade" splits). This needs to be better developed.


“4) I believe that having clearer guidelines that additionally do not put so much emphasis on phylogenetic relationships will help reduce the number of arbitrary changes and will also reduce the (inevitably) subjective evaluation of which criterion should be afforded more importance in different cases.


“5) I agree in that names should be, for the most part, in English. But I deeply disagree with Wiedenfeld´s view. The rich lexicon of the Neotropics, paralleled by its astounding bird richness and diversity, can provide very accurate and evocative names that will be pleasant and useful to English speakers. Within reason, names such as Rio Branco Antbird, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Monte Yellow Finch, and Jalca Tapaculo (of which I find the usage of Jalca acceptable [having dropped the former "Millpo"]; let´s skip the "Tapaculo" for the time being) incorporate non-English words without creating any kind of problem.


“6) Finally, to build upon comments by Craig Caldwell, the SACC is treating a different (and notably larger) set of species than NACC, and taxonomic uncertainty is possibly times higher in the former. While I believe that having shared protocols is a good thing, we need to keep in mind the different nature and amount of knowledge on our study subjects. So, again, while I agree with the spirit of the guidelines, they were not thought to deal with the South American avifauna, and some adjustments seem necessary to take into consideration the different development of ornithology and taxonomy in both subcontinents.


“7) The issue of whether non-native English speakers should vote or discuss on the appropriateness of common English names is byzantine and anachronic to say the least. I think that all SACC members should vote and that common English names decisions should be expedite (i.e., needing simple majority, not 2/3 of votes, to pass). If we will have new guidelines, we should also discuss who will be deciding the SACC common English names. With so many capable people around, including many advisors, it would not take much to have reasonable names at a relatively high-speed.”


Comments from Claramunt: “YES.  These new guidelines are clear AND flexible. They will be helpful framing the discussions for future changes. I particularly like the special considerations regarding eponyms. Ultimately, I tend to concur with Alvaro's comment: I'm not convinced that dealing with English should be part of our main goals. But at least these new guidelines give us a stronger framework.”


Comments from Stiles: “I will abstain on this proposal, reflecting my philosophy regarding the nature of English names, as opposed to Latin names. Latin is effectively not a living language, which facilitates its function as regards stability. The flood of new genetic evidence, in combination with new data on distributions and vocalizations in particular, has necessitated numerous changes, but the ICZN Code provides rules governing such changes. Thus, a characteristic of Latin names is that they look to the past to ensure stability (although even here, the Code recognizes a “gray zone” with respect to current usage). By contrast, English is a living language – and a fundamental characteristic of living languages is that they evolve, because the world that they are being used to describe changes! With regard to English names for birds, the world has changed greatly since the times of Hellmayr, Meyer de Schauensee and even Eisenmann. Many species have been split or lumped; new genetic information as well as data on vocalizations, ecology and distribution have provided many new and sometimes unsuspected insights on taxonomic affinities. Moreover, there are many more people (mostly professionals) in the field studying birds, and  very many more people (mostly amateurs) out there observing  and identifying them – and also a number of people that combine both attributes, including some field guide authors and tour guides. Many (non-taxonomist) professionals and virtually all amateurs are the primary users of English names, which ideally should facilitate identification of the birds.


“To me, this requires a different way of viewing stability, one that looks to the future rather than the past. In this sense, I think that trying to ensure stability by categorically rejecting newer names that differ from a static “classic” baseline (those used by Meyer de Schauensee in 1966 or 1970 and based nearly exclusively on museum specimens) may not be the best way to go. A number of changes involving clearly more evocative, distinctive or taxonomically appropriate names have been rejected by SACC, including some already accepted in field guides and other checklists - and the process continues.  In effect, we’re in an uphill struggle to freeze classic E-names in a downhill landslide to change (and, let’s admit it, improve) them!  One should not confuse field guide taxonomy (suggested splits or lumps base on the author’s familiarity with the taxa in question, but not based on formal published evidence) and field guide names (which often are better suited for field identification). Hence, a more realistic view of stability could be to accept the best changes available as being the most likely to survive longest in the future. Such survival will inevitably depend upon the users of these names, and SACC has become a good deal more flexible in recent years, especially with the input from people that use these names most: birders, tour guides and yes, field guide authors!


“SACC has received criticism for the delays in evaluating and accepting or rejecting taxonomic changes. In a number of cases, delays (of months or even years) in implementing accepted taxonomic changes have been the difficulty of reaching a consensus on E-names.  Most of the members of SACC are scientists with a strong museum base (and have rather less use in their work for English names – especially the Latin American members, except when publishing in English-language journals).  I suggest that it might be worthwhile to officialize a subcommittee specifically for English names to include people that help to bridge the gap like Steve Hilty, Bret Whitney, Mark Pearman, Bob Ridgely, Tom Schulenberg and Dan Lane? (perhaps with ad hoc members of SACC itself when it might seem useful to this subcommittee).  Let the current SACC evaluate the taxonomic changes, then refer the E-name questions to this (sub)committee as the taxonomic questions are decided. This subcommittee should then promptly present its consensus to SACC for acceptance (unless there is a serious objection that might require another round – hopefully such cases would be exceptional). Might this help to speed things up, and assure better contact with those who need and use these names most?


“It might be useful to contrast SACC with NACC on these issues. Most E-names for North American birds were established by the AOU nearly a century ago, and have been continuously in use by thousands of people, both professionals and amateurs, ever since. Hence, the need for changes in these E-names has been limited to the situations well treated by NACC. Although E-names for most South American birds were proposed by Meyer de Schauensee (presumably in collaboration with Eisenmann), they were not widely used for several decades.  Since the 1980s, the availability of many new, well-illustrated field guides (and affordable air travel) have stimulated a new generation of globe-trotting birders, coinciding with a surge of new fieldwork and taxonomic changes by ornithologists, enhanced by better technology and improved access to previously little-explored regions. These developments have disclosed the inadequacy of various E-names dating from the 1960’s (or in some cases, earlier), as well as producing numerous suggestions for E-name changes. I suggest that the best of these newer names might well have a longer “half-life” than those older ones found to be less satisfactory, and thus better promote stability into the future.”


Comments from Stiles: “Accept NACC guidelines for E-names: I didn’t try to disentangle the comments on this one.. as I recall, I thought that SACC’s situation here was more complicated and required more flexibility on a few points.”


Additional comments from Stiles: “[YES to all.]. Although I am not altogether enchanted by the NACC proposal, it may be flexible enough to be palatable in practice, so to avoid eternal stagnation, I'll agree to YES and hope that it works OK for SA problems in practice.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO – There is a lot to fix here. I do think the pendulum needs to switch to not changing well established names after a split unless absolutely necessary. The idea of a daughter having the name of the species pre-split causes some confusion (Winter Wren), but in reality, not much at all. Yet the simplification and minimization of confusion for millions of users is huge by keeping Winter Wren for the northern/eastern species.  

“I also think that there has to be some element of consistency, and enforcing consistency. These guidelines are published, yet I am not sure that the committee actually looks at them before making a decision. Why do we have White-winged, Velvet, Stejneger’s Scoters, as well as Black, Common Scoter….. yet the NACC decides to re-name the Mew Gull when there was an available and widely used North American English Name in the very same manner of use as in the scoters? If these guidelines are not creating some consistency, I am not sure they are much use at all. Perhaps more for the benefit of people outside of the committee?

“I would also suggest that complex eponyms be dealt with outside of the committee. We have not been good with dealing with questions of culture that are outside of science. This is a committee of scientists, and the phylogeny and taxonomy work we do well. The cultural not so much. While culture may necessitate the changing of names for reasons that the public may be working for, the committee has to balance the need to change names in some cases, and the need to fight to retain names in other cases. But the user group considered has to be the public. This ties into the top point, we should have concern for not changing widespread names after splits. I think maintaining Winter Wren was a good idea! We should also strive to have names that are memorable, and vibrant. We may not be the brains to come up with these names. Having outside input, perhaps even public forums run by others that we can tap into would be good for idea generation?

“Overall, English Names are how most users interact with names. Scientists are perhaps less than 1% of the users, yet the names are being created by scientists with their concerns forefront. I am not sure that system works as it is, and a set of guidelines that is lacking abundant creativity, or points addressing the needs of the average English Name user, is not going to cut it either. Public input as part of the process would be a start.

“I don’t understand the dichotomy of how we undervalue the job of English Names, as it is not the “interesting stuff” like the splits and lumps. Yet we are keen on being in control of this process. It seems clear to me that English names are a bit of an annoyance at times for all involved (myself included), yet we are keen to remain in control of this realm. Why? If it is just a question of maintaining control for the sake of control… well, I don’t understand that. If it is because the committees really think they can do a better job than a wider body and with more public input, well I have not seen the data suggesting that this is the case. I do not think this these simple guidelines address a way to resolve all of this for the committees, or a way forward.

“In particular for THIS committee, if in the end the idea is for South Americans to be running and guiding this committee long term well most if not all of those people will be English speakers as a second language. Also, they may not be day to day users of the English Names. We already allow non primary English speakers in the committee to bow out of the voting for English Names. So if this work is already being segmented in this way, maybe the guidelines should be formalized and again, a separate group (which could include even all members of this committee) should be created to deal with the English Names? In a sense it is happening informally, that needs to be codified in some way for any set of English Name guidelines. There are probably other issues specific to the SACC that make the direct acceptance of the NACC guidelines not possible.”