Racist names of plants and animals have started to change now as a movement is highlighting how names associated them, can be offensive.
The scientists are focusing on changing names that appear stereotypical and generalise people or history by their geographical location.
How are species named?
The majority of the species are named with words particularly those common with the general public, such as birds – which have two or more names. However, the names are categorized into two types; scientific, and common names.
This name is used globally and this is used everywhere in the world, and also the primary reference name that people use the most.
This type of name is used more commonly and amongst people living in the same region and area- and these names can vary from location to location referring to the same species as people associate other meanings and names with them. For example, Bubo scandiacus is the scientific name for the bird commonly known as the snowy owl, white owl, or Arctic owl.
The racist element exists in both types of naming, the scientific and common one both. These common names present a valuable shared language for scientists and the public, filling in their communication gap, but they can lead to leaving harmful legacies. Activists demanding change are seeing these names acting as obstacles to inclusion and diversions from the organisms themselves.
Racist names and why are they problematic
In July, the ESA dismissed the derogatory term “gypsy,” from its common name record for two insects: the moth Lymantria dispar and the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides because it is deemed as a slur for Romani people.
The ESA has proposed to find a new name from the recommendations of the public. Meanwhile, the insects will only be referred with their globally recognized scientific names.
Margareta Matache, a Roma rights activist and scholar at Harvard University says, “This is a moral, necessary, and long-overdue change. It’s a small yet historic step to rectify portrayals where Roma has been denied humanity or depicted as less than human.”
Some scorpions, birds, fishes, and flowers are identified by the label Hottentot, a word of abuse for Indigenous Khoikhoi people in southern Africa. The Digger pine tree is offensive to the Paiute people in the western United States, as they were once called diggers by white settlers.
Now, 142 North American bird names exist as oral statues to people. A few names such as Scott’s Oriole were of the military officer Darius Nash Couch who participated in genocide.
Some more such as Bachman’s sparrow is named after John Bachman who advocated for slavery.
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The movement to change racist names
Better Common Names Project by the ESA is focused on prohibiting names immortalizing negative stereotypes and also asks the common public to give suggestions on names.
Currently, over 80 inconsiderate names have been classified, and over 100 name ideas for L. dispar have flowed in.
Since 2020, followers of the campaign ‘Bird Names for Birds’ have pushed for a solution to renew all eponymous bird names with descriptive ones.
The American Ornithological Society originally denied Driver’s proposal to change the name of a brownish-gray bird termed McCown’s longspur, selected for Confederate general John P.
McCown. However, after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the onset of destroying monuments that represented anti-black sentiments, the ornithology society revised its policies and now the bird is referred to as the thick-billed longspur.
Eliminating harmful words allows long-term stability of common names. This can be an opportunity to name all species correctly, and not associate them with any historic sentiment that is offensive or harming people.