Emotion. Drama. Intrigue. Philosophy. Yes, I’m talking about scientific proposals to ornithological taxonomic authorities. Take, for example, the gem I found in the latest round of proposals to the American Ornithologists’ Union’s North American Classification Committee.
The proposal, titled “Change English name of Columbina inca from Inca Dove to Aztec Dove,” begins thus: “I’m serious.” Oh, honey.
“[Inca Dove is] a completely misleading, nonsensical, embarrassing name that should not be perpetuated…. In fact, I wonder how the planet manages to continue to rotate on its axis,” continues the author, Dr. Van Remsen, without a trace of melodrama.
Inca Doves (Columbina inca) by triggzBb
The problem, of course, is that the Incas ruled the Andes, but Columbina inca resides in southern North America and Central America, over much of which the Aztecs once ruled. There does not seem to be a good explanation for why a Mesoamerican dove was named for a South American empire.
So, Dr. Remsen, while pointing out that he ordinarily prefers stability in English names, proposes a switch from Inca Dove to Aztec Dove. You can read the whole proposal here.
Honestly, I will be surprised if this proposal passed the committee (we’ll find out next month). On the other hand, maybe it struck a chord. I’m on the fence myself. Dr. Remsen clearly feels that continuing to use the name perpetuates ignorance — and perhaps, if I may extend the thought, prejudice.
What do you think? Do you favor the switch? Does continuing to use a nonsensical name makes us dumber, or would the resulting confusion after a switch be worse? Does it open important philosophical and cultural questions, or is it much ado about not much? Weigh in down in the comments section, please. I’d love to hear what you think.