Rejected NACC Proposals

The concern about eponymous and honorific bird names is not new. Concerned individuals have been following the system and structure in place by the American Ornithological Society (AOS), and specifically it’s North American Classification and Nomenclature Committee (NACC), for years by submitting formal proposals following NACC guidelines requesting that problematic names of certain bird species be changed. There are four key case studies of proposals over the years.

To date (August 2020) only one proposal has actually accomplished changing a bird’s common English name due to an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) related issue on the principle of EDI itself.

Case Studies

Long-tailed Duck
Long-tailed Duck by Alex Holt

Bird (current name): Long-tailed Duck
Year: 2000
Decision: Accepted
Ruling Statement:
Reason: Conservation Implications
Background and story:
The prior name of this bird was “Oldsquaw” – a derogatory and offensive name that references a certain sound made by a group of elderly Indigenous groups chattering.
A proposal outlining this issue and reasons supporting a new name for the bird was accepted, however the reasoning for the name change was due to conservation implications and explicitly stated that inclusion reasons were not the motivating principle.
See last paragraph on p.848 of the formal record of this:

Kiwikiu perched on a branch.
Kiwikiu, Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project
Photo by Zach Pezzillo at The Nature Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve

Bird (current name): Maui Parrotbill
Year: 2011
Decision: Rejected – unanimous vote

Warning: Due to direct quotes from the ruling statement, the following content contains racist and offensive language. We want readers to know before proceeding given the negative impact it may have on them. It should be noted that AOS did issue an apology statement regarding these comments in August 2020.

Ruling Statement:
Reason: Biases against Hawaiian language based name – Kiwikiu
Background and story:
The bird being discussed is not actually a parrotbill taxonomically, thus has a misleading name. It also did not have a surviving Hawaiian name used, like other Hawaiian birds. The Hawaiian Lexicon Committee came up with “Kiwikiu” and it was then accepted in the Hawaiian dictionary, Mamaka Kaiao in 2010. As stated in the proposal – “The “kiwi” part of the name means bent or curved (e.g., sickle-shaped), which refers to the shape of the bill of this bird. “Kiu” has a double meaning, referring both to the bird’s secretive ways and to a cold, chilly wind, such as the breezes in the bird’s habitat.” 
Notable direct quotes from the ruling statement:
“I believe we should not even add this to Notes as an aka.”
“I am puzzled why the native Hawaiian (well they weren’t there too over say 700 years ago) names should stick when we don’t use native names for any North American birds, and they were there longer than 700 years. And the record of preservation for the Hawaiians is hardly something to celebrate with over half the endemics going extinct before Cook ever landed. I basically like Maui Parrotbill, even recognizing it isn’t in the largely Asian parrotbill group within Timaliidae.”
“It seems contrived, unfamiliar, unpronounceable, and lacks a long history of usage.”
“The last thing we need is yet another ridiculous Hawaiian language name (in this case, entirely concocted, de novo).”
“I just can’t see any reason to replace a reasonable descriptive English name with a made-up Hawaiian name, and then treat that as the “English name.”
“The name Maui Parrotbill is a lousy one, but this new “Hawaiian” name seems rather made up – ad hoc.”

Bird (current name): Inca Dove
Year: 2011
Decision: Rejected – split vote
Ruling Statement:
Reason: Nomenclatural stability
Background and story:
This is a unique case study given the EDI reasons that could be listed. However, the proposal submitted mentions nothing of EDI and simply leans on the name of this bird being irrelevant to the bird. The proposal states, “… this bird has absolutely nothing to do with the Incas, who were endemic to the Andes of South America.” It also states, “If any argument could be made that ―Inca Dove vaguely looks like, sounds like, or is associated in any way with the Incas, then I‘d be opposed to changing it, but as far as I can tell, this is not the case.” 
The issue remains though that this bird and its name have serious concerns, including EDI ones. 
Notable direct quotes from the ruling statement:
“The name doesn’t reflect our ignorance, but Lesson’s [the original namer of this species]. This vote is for stability.”
“I agree that the name is inappropriate, but also favor stability and am swayed by comments from others.”
“But the name is based on the specific epithet, and as far as I can tell, the species has always been called Inca Dove, except by those who lump it into squammata, when it becomes Scaled Dove. Even if Inca Dove morally offended me, somehow changing it to Aztec Dove, yet another pre-Columbian empire that has only a tenuous relationship to the bird, seems like a not very useful English name.”

A Thick-billed Longspur sitting on a rock in a priarie.

Bird (current name): McCown’s Longspur* (update – see below)
Year: 2019
Decision: Rejected, 7-1 
It should be noted that coming out of this decision, the NACC also added new “Guidelines for English Bird Names.”
Ruling Statement:
Reason: Ethics and morals should not be a deciding factor on bird names
Background and story:
John P. McCown accidentally collected the longspur while out shooting birds. He was not an ornithologist and is given the note of being the first to collect a specimen due to known dates of notes. It was George N. Lawrence who formally named the bird after McCown. While Lawrence named this bird intentionally for the first person to collect a specimen, he also unintentionally named this bird “…after a man who fought for years to maintain the right to keep slaves, and also fought against multiple Native tribes.”
As stated in the proposal, “John P. McCown, previously of the U.S. Army, joined the Confederacy and fought for the right of states to preserve slavery. He was not a minor participant in the war, but a mainstay; he participated in an array of campaigns and led men into battle. Although John P. McCown did not join the Confederacy until after his name was attached to the longspur, he likely held views of slavery consistent with his decision to join the Confederacy. With the United States general public increasingly embracing our diversity and confronting public displays of the Confederacy, such as flying Confederate flags, using Confederate general street names, and maintaining statues to Confederate soldiers, it is appropriate for the AOS to address its own piece of Confederate history, John P. McCown of McCown’s Longspur.”
Notable direct quotes from the ruling statement:
“If this were a Reconstruction-era monument to the Confederate Army Brigadier General McCown, I would join the proposal’s author in calling for its removal. But I don’t think this is a case that merits dis-recognizing someone who made legitimate contributions to ornithology because he was subsequently an officer in the Confederate Army…..My point is that we need to weigh our nomenclature in terms of who birds are named after and whether they merit continued recognition given the whole of a person’s actions in life. In the case of McCown, I think the name recognizes someone who made important contributions to ornithology and that his remaining life (from what we know right now) did not prove so morally corrupt that we should cease to recognize his name in association with this bird.”
“…I agree with other committee members who are concerned about where we would draw the line on this sort of change….As a committee focused on taxonomy and nomenclature, we should strive for stability in names unless there is a strongly compelling reason to change them.”
“I am hesitant to change English names because of changing views of appropriate behavior. In the case of McCown, the only negative I really see for him is that he chose to go with the confederates rather than the union when the Civil War broke out.”
“While deploring many aspects of 19th Century (not to mention current) attitudes, I don’t feel it is the Committee’s mission to serve as an ethics or investigative committee; we are a taxonomic committee….If we start, where do we draw the line? If we change patronymics because of someone’s 19th C beliefs, do we then start looking at species named for cultures and deciding which cultures deserve to be honored?”
“The proposal’s portrait of McCown is one-sided. What it does not do is provide balance, notably McCown’s keen interest in birds and his many ornithological contributions. Lawrence recognized this, and I presume that is why he named the longspur after his friend and contributor. This is in the best traditions of ornithology.”
“It is widely known that judging historical figures by current moral standards is problematic, unfair to some degree, and rarely black-and-white.”

Bird (current name): Thick-billed Longspur
Year: 2020
Decision: Accepted, 7-1 abstain
Ruling Statement: yet to be posted online (Aug 8, 2020)
Reason: <to come once ruling statement is posted online>
Background and story:
A new proposal regarding this species was submitted. The NACC made this decision out of cycle or following their typical timeline.