I’d learned a lot since the last time I sat in a meeting room even close to this fancy. Mostly, don’t steal breath mints. I’m still full of good ideas, though. And the faces around this table – faces you might recognize, and names, if I hadn’t signed an NDA that I’m pretty sure allows me to be shot into space if I tell you who was present – were doing a pretty good job of acting like they wanted to hear them.
I can’t tell you exactly how I brokered this meeting between these titans of industry and a team from the AOS, either. Of course it involved subterfuge, and bribery, and Jonathan Franzen at a crossroads at midnight. But the details must remain nebulous.
Now, however, all those distasteful shenanigans were about to pay off. I brushed the screen of my tablet and the image of a small bird, bold in black and gray and chestnut, filled the screen behind me. A trilling song pierced the room’s hush and the shuffle of papers from the audience.
“The McCown’s Longspur.” I smiled and gestured. “But not for long. I think we’re all in agreement that that’s a terrible name, for obvious reasons…”
“Indeed,” someone piped up. “I’ve never even heard of this McCown jerk. No brand recognition at all.”
Glancing at the man who’d interrupted, I remembered exactly how his family first made their money and decided to move ahead quickly. “Exactly! And it has to be called something. Why not Musk’s Longspur? Bezos’s Longspur?”
“Why isn’t Jeff here, anyway?” The interrupter looked around suspiciously, as though he suddenly feared that he was in a room full of second-tier billionaires.
“Mr. Bezos has a lot on his plate right now. And he does already have an entire genus of parrots named after his company for free.”
A reed-thin, blue-eyed woman chuckled. “That’s Jeff for you.” The mood of the room seemed to lighten, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“So, for a relatively small contribution to habitat preservation, or captive breeding programs, or some minor climate change mitigation…” here a small covey of oil executives rustled and began to puff up, “really quite small, by your standards, you too could have a longspur. Or a pipit, or a weaver, or a finch, or…” *don’t say sparrow* I told myself. *Sparrow polls really bad. You know it does.*
“We’ll take the Peregrine Falcon,” at least seven voices said at once. The voices in question were capable of starting a pretty significant bidding war – or, if I let things get out of hand, a small shooting war.
“An excellent choice!” I said cheerfully. “But of course you’ll want to tailor your selection for your particular branding needs. And our crack team of ornithologists can help with that. For instance – ” I swiped at the tablet again, and footage of a large accipter crashed across the screen in full pursuit – “this is not a Peregrine. This is a Cooper’s Hawk. And this,” I swiped again, “is a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but shouldn’t it obviously be a Mini-Cooper? That’s why BMW joined our pilot program this month.” Swipe. “Or, here’s the Standardwing.” A few of the younger, less formal members of the audience murmured in appreciation. “Lovely, yes. But Standard Oil doesn’t exist any more, as such – so should it be the ExxonMobilwing, the BPwing, or the Chevronwing?” The covey stopped glaring at me and started glaring at each other, which gave me some satisfaction.
One of my AOS backup team nudged me. “We can’t actually…” I waved her off. If I could negotiate with these heavyweights, I could negotiate with the IOC when the time came.
“So you seriously propose to let us name birds like we name stadiums?”
It’s not any worse than how we’ve named them in the past, I wanted to say, but didn’t. “It’s about conservation. Why shouldn’t you be emotionally invested in conservation, even though you’re literally invested in oil or coal or clearing the boreal forests or digging up rare earth elements or manufacturing single-use plastics?” It sounded pretty silly when I said it out loud, but they didn’t seem to notice. “Of course you care, in a sensible, balanced way that doesn’t cut into the bottom line too much. And having a bird named after you or your company shows that.”
“So,” the blue-eyed woman said in a very calm voice, “what’s the rarest bird you have to offer?”
I hadn’t been expecting that question so soon, and swiped rapidly. “We can make you a very attractive deal on the Antioquia Brushfinch. That species could use a cash infusion right away.”
“What’s the rarest bird you have that’s cool?” a techbro piped up from the back.
“The Blue-eyed Ground Dove.” I shot a glance at the woman, hoping this would take her fancy, but she was now openly playing with a gold-cased iPhone.
“Doves are booo-ring,” said the tech-bro next to the tech-bro. “And no one’s even heard of that one.”
“The California Condor?”
A stout man in the corner glanced up. “Cranes we like. Good, solid business, construction.”
But the others were back to talking over each other, and me, and mostly what they were saying was Peregrine Falcon, Peregrine Falcon.
“The Peregrine Falcon isn’t even that rare anymore!” I said. Well, shouted, at that point, I’m afraid.
“Oh,” someone said. I would be lying if I claimed I didn’t see his face, but I’d rather lie than end up on the next ‘unmanned’ SpaceX test launch. “Well, it’d be easy to make them rare again, if we wanted to. And profitable to bring back DDT as well.”
There would be no jumping out the window this time – we were about forty stories up – but I knew I had to get my people out of there fast.
So anyway, that’s why we’re not getting the McCown’s Longspur name change done this year, and also why the Peregrine Falcon will be called something different every three years from now on. I think they’re starting with Monsanto Falcon. Adjust your checklists accordingly.
Most birds were named by now dead white men who didn’t appreciate that most of the species they were “discovering” had already been discovered and had names. Most of the birds so named were named by men with the dead remnants of a bird in their hand and often the men doing the naming had never seen the bird in life. Geographic, honorific, horrific, and overly specific names abound much to the detriment of those who would like names to actually fit the creatures being described. And we poor birders have to use those names because otherwise no one will know what bird we are checking off our list and bragging about having spotted to fellow birders, bored families, and unimpressed romantic interests. Well, no more! We here at 10,000 Birds have decided to right some wrongs and improve the birding world by renaming birds the way they should have been named from Linnaeus to the present. (Or, at least, pointing out some names that suck.) Welcome to Bird Renaming Week, our week-long exploration of the names we put to birds and how they can be improved!