Posted by: Sandy Steinman | April 19, 2023

Decolonizing Species Names

The Revelator reports

New research points out the frequent inequity of species’ scientific names, a longstanding problem that creates barriers to conservation.

What’s in a species name?

In some cases, the answers include paternalism, colonialism, sexism and racism.

Take the Townsend’s warbler (Setophaga townsendi), for example. This small, bright yellow North American bird was first scientifically described at Fort Vancouver in Washington state, just a few miles from where I live. We get a ton of them in our backyard every year.

But the Townsend’s warbler, beautiful though it may be, is a bird whose name has a dark history. It was named by American naturalist John Kirk Townsend, who described dozens of species in the early 19th century — right around the same time he was stealing human remains from Native American grave sites and shipping the skulls back East to help support a friend’s racist theory that Indigenous peoples were actually separate species.

As you might expect, in these more enlightened times, several experts have proposed renaming the Townsend’s warbler, along with dozens of other North American birds that bear the names of other ethically dubious researchers or historical figures.

Read more at Decolonizing Species Names • The Revelator

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