Australian Bird Names: Origins and Meanings. Second Edition.
Much has happened in the ornithological world since 2013, when the first edition of this book, titled Australian Bird Names: A Complete Guide, was published. Fifty-five species of vagrants have been added to the national list, and a further 21 species have been 'created' by taxonomic splitting of resident species. While not intended as an authoritative checklist of Australian birds, this second edition is a thoroughly researched, entertaining--and often amusing--account of the meanings and stories behind these birds' names.
Book contents include Introduction to the First Edition, Introduction to the Second Edition, Non-Passerines, Passerines, References, Index of common names and Index of scientific names. The illustrations are taken from Silvester Diggles' Companion to Gould's Handbook; or, Synopsis of the Birds of Australia, published in Brisbane in 1877 by Thorne and Greenwell. The only alternative at the time, John Gould's Birds of Australia, was very expensive, and Diggles believed that Australians should have an affordable guide to their country's birds.
The Introduction to the Second Edition includes informative sections on the naming of birds, how common and scientific names have been derived, the process of naming a bird, and why names change. There is also historical information about lists of Australian bird names including: the contributions made by prominent ornithologists from the eighteenth century onwards, checklists produced by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (now Birdlife Australia), Birdlife Australia's Working List of Australian Birds, and international lists such as the IOC World Bird List, which are widely used today. The organisation of the book is explained, followed by a section about translations, pronunciation and derivations. Here Fraser and Gray state 'We have... used free, and sometimes creative, translations, especially where the author's thinking was not made clear. Where we have speculated, we have been careful to say so' (p. xvii).
The bulk of the book is packed with truly fascinating details about origins and meanings of bird names. Here you will find stories from Greek mythology and accounts of early explorers, naturalists, ornithologists, zoologists, and the many people involved in collecting birds and creating names for them. A few racehorses also get a mention! Some names are apt, for example Eudyptes chrysocome 'good diver with golden hair' for Southern Rockhopper Penguin; some, such as the genus name Gerygone, meaning 'child of song,' are quite beautiful; some sound rather insulting, e.g. Anous 'stupid bird' for the Noddies ('noddy' is an old English word meaning 'simpleton'); some seem a little odd, e.g. Melanodryas vittata 'black banded tree-nymph' for Dusky Robin; while Xema, the genus name created by William Elford Leach for Sabine's Gull (pp. 77-78), is apparently totally meaningless!
Most birds are or have been known by several different common names, for example Laughing Kookaburra, a species that 'has possibly attracted more folk names... than any other Australian bird' (p. 137), and White-fronted Chat, a bird that 'has attracted a wealth of names' (p. 195). By contrast, the Black Swan is 'notable in having had, apparently, no other names' (p. 10), while for the Large-billed Scrubwren, 'Except for Gould's Large-billed Sericornis,... no other name has ever been needed' (p. 213). In some cases there is no known explanation for a name, e.g. 'Devil-bird' for both Grey Fantail and Yellow-throated Scrubwren.
Having lived in Tasmania for 20 years, I was interested to discover that one of the common names for the Tasmanian Nativehen is 'Turbo Chook', 'an affectionate Tasmanian folk name, for its impressive burst of speed'. This bird is also known as 'Narkie', 'probably for the hard nasal aggression calls and somewhat squabbly nature, though it could also be from an Indigenous language' (p. 46). In any case, once heard, never forgotten!
Common names and scientific names are listed in separate indexes. Names of both genera and species are listed in the Index of scientific names, making it is easy to look up a species if the genus name can't be recalled. A random check revealed occasional errors in the Index of common names. For example, Grey Shrikethrush (p. 240) is listed as being on p. 229, and Grey Butcherbird (p. 229) on p. 228. There are software packages that eliminate this type of problem, and one could be used in producing future editions.
The wealth of meticulously researched information presented in this book makes it an essential reference for anyone keen about birds and words, and a very welcome addition to ornithological literature.
6 Saniky Street Notting Hill Victoria 3168
by Ian Fraser and Jeannie Gray
One Hundred and One Years Ago
RE-NAMING AUSTRALIAN BIRDS: IS IT NECESSARY?--Mr. A. J. Campbell, C.M.B.O.U., &c, has issued in pamphlet form, an address delivered at a conversazione of the Royal Australian Ornithologists' Union on 3rd July last. The object of the address is to call attention to the hopeless confusion into which the list of Australian birds is being thrown by those energetic literary ornithologists who are engaged in searching obscure and scarce literature for chance references and earlier names for many of our birds. He contends that the greater number of Gould's names are scientifically correct, and should remain as the basis of an Australian bird-list. Many of these names have been in use for upwards of seventy years; why replace them with names which, in many instances, are totally inapplicable? And we think most naturalists will agree with his contention. Mr. Campbell promises, after the war, a volume descriptive of his experiences in various parts of Australia, which should have a ready sale.
From The Victorian Naturalist XXXV, p. 84, September 5, 1918
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|Author:||Fraser, Ian; Gray, Jeannie|
|Publication:||The Victorian Naturalist|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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