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DOUBLE NAMING ANIMALS an example on thrushes

Speaking of "Thrushes", we mean all species of them: Song Thrushes for example, but also Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings. You could say they form a Thrushes family, but officially they form but a genus, and this genus is part of the much larger official Thrushes family, which includes Robins, Wheatears and Nightingales. Now let's be bold and give some thrushes our own DIY scientific names. The English names of the birds we choose are quite obvious: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Redwing. But we rearrange the names a bit to emphasize the fact that these thrushes belong to the same genus of Thrushes, and put them on the labels in our virtual museum:

Thrush, the black-
Song thrush
Song Thrush
Thrush, the singing-
Mistle Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Thrush, the Mistletoeberry eating-
Thrush, the redwinged-

And there! We created our own scientific names because we:

In this form they can be placed more systematically in the the "Grand Index" of the animal kingdom.

Unfortunately for us, in the matter of creating official names there are some more rules, and one important one is: they have to be in Latin or at least some Latinised form. Why? Well, Latin was the first language in which scientists communicated worldwide. And so every zoologist in the world knew (and still knows) which animal you are referring to with its Latin name, at least that was the general idea. There is one more advantage: less words needed for the specific part of the name, Latin is nice compact. We may als drop the comma. Now let's do what many have done before us: get hold of a Latin dictionary and, with a bit copy and paste work, translate our names into something that at least looks like Latin. Thrush becomes Turdus, simply an old Latin name for Thrush, maybe a slight imitation of the sound they can make (such a name is called an onomatope). Anyway, that will be our genus name. Browsing further in our dictionary we find: wing-pteron, wings-ptera, and so on. Using our imagination freely, we make these new labels:

Blackbird  -  Thrush, the black-  -  Turdus melas
Song Thrush  -  Thrush, the singing-  -  Turdus cantas
Mistle Thrush  -  Thrush, Mistletoeberry eating-  -  Turdus viscifructivorus
Redwing  -  Thrush, the redwinged-  -  Turdus rubroptera

Now doesn't that look more like the real thing? We could even claim these names to be the official ones that should be used worldwide, were it not that others did this (long) before us...
Maybe this story seems oversimplified, but it is the way species were (and still are) named. The official names for the thrushes don't even differ that much from our own. It's just that others seemed to find other aspects of the birds more striking or knew different old names:


Turdus merula
Thrush, "merula"
Song Thrush
Turdus philomelos
(Thrush, likes the dark)
Song Thrush
Mistle thrush
Turdus viscivorus
(Thrush, mistletoe eater)
Mistle Thrush
Turdus iliacus
(Thrush, loins)

Let's examine them shortly one by one:
Merula is a very old name for the Blackbird, that still can be found in the French name Merle as well as in the Dutch name Merel.
Philo - melos, "loves the dark". The Song Thrush is indeed an early bird, singing when it's still dark, and in the evening it gives vigorous serenades long after sunset. (The Blackbird does this too, but the Song Thrush is both earlier and later).
Visci-vorus, "Mistletoe devouring". A lot like our DIY name, just a bit shorter.
Iliacus, loin, most probably because of the copper red loins of the Redwing, obvious when the bird sits on a twig.

A last remark on the genus Turdus: as already mentioned this genus is part of the larger Thrushes family that is called Turdidae (the "Thrushlikes"). As you can see the family is named after the best known (or most typical) genus. This is true for many scientific family names.

-NEXT PAGE: scientific names for ditch animals.

- UK.rec.birdwatching: a nice page about Latin bird names with a more thorough explanation than given here.


© G.H. Visser 17-10-2008
rev. 18-04-2019

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