Removal of the possessive apostrophe from patronymic bird names —those including the name of a person — is under consideration by a committee of the American Ornithological Society (AOS). 

 

Cooper’s Hawk would become Cooper Hawk, Harris’s Sparrow Harris Sparrow. And so on — Swainson Thrush and Swainson Hawk, Audubon Oriole and Audubon Warbler. Brewer Blackbird and Barrow Goldeneye.

 

The proposal was presented to the society in September by Ted Floyd, editor of “Birding,” the magazine of the American Birding Association. 

 

Floyd writes in his proposal that “the possessive form for avian patronymics is a peculiar outlier in modern English.”

 

“Distinct from possession is the idea of association: the Audubon Society, the Peterson System, the Mayfield Method — things named for, but not in the possession of, Audubon, Peterson, and Mayfield, respectively,” Floyd writes.

 

He offers these as common examples that do not use the possessive mark: Washington monument, Salk vaccine, Englemann Spruce, and Guggenheim Museum, among others. He could have included Trump Tower.

 

Examples here would include counties named for Aitkin (fur trader), Hennepin (missionary), Ramsey (governor), Lincoln (president), Scott (general), Sherburne (associate justice of the Minnesota territorial supreme count), Carlton (early settler and state senator) and Carver (explorer and cartographer of the Mississippi River).

 

Floyd’s reasoning is recorded in a 1,684-word document presented to the committee. 

 

The AOS was formed in 2016 by the merger of the American Ornithologists' Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society.

 

Here is a short list of other changes under consideration by the AOS. Some of them could add a life bird to your list.

 

Split Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis into two species.

 

Elevate Harlan's Hawk Buteo (jamaicensis) harlani to species status.

 

Add European Storm-Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus to the U.S. list.

 

Change the English name of Saltmarsh Sparrow Ammospiza caudacuta to Peterson's Sparrow (which would become Peterson Sparrow, I assume).

 

Split White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca into two species.

 

Or, split White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca into three species.

 

There are 25 other proposals, most involving technical issues with names and placement among avian families.

 

The use of names without an apostrophe is not common, but can be found. The “Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America,” an excellent book recently reviewed here, does away with possessives.

 

Author Rick Wright examines Henslow, Brewer, and Bachmann sparrows, Abert Towhee, Baird Junco, and more.

 

 

 

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A technical issue with bird names