I enjoy making up my own names for birds, especially when I’m not happy with the accepted common names. A case in point is the Northern Cardinal, one of our most common backyard birds. Nearly everyone knows the cardinal and has seen and heard the males singing in the spring … as they are doing right now in my yard.
The name “Cardinal” refers to the color of the male: his bright red coat reminded someone of the bright scarlet red gowns worn by cardinals in the Catholic Church. Now that’s all well and good, but such a name ties the bird to human history. Fact is, the bird was bright red long before there was a Catholic Church. So, if anything, the church’s cardinals should have been named after the bird, not vice versa (of course, the “bird” in this case was on American soil and was not yet known in the early days of the Church).
Further complicating matters is calling our bird the “Northern” Cardinal. What on earth do they mean by “Northern”? Cardinals are found from Florida northward to Canada, so what’s so northern about it? Well, maybe this is in reference to cardinals that live in Central or South America. It turns out that there is no “Southern” Cardinal, although there is a “Vermilion” Cardinal that lives in South America. Is the Vermilion Cardinal the southern species that forced our bird to be designated as “Northern”? Whatever the answer, this is clearly confusing to those of us who live where our cardinal lives.
My solution to this conundrum is to name this bird as all birds should be named … with words that describe the bird’s unique appearance or behavior, free of historical context (why not confine historical references to the scientific names?). In this case, coming up with a solid common name is easy-peasy. Both male and female have a crest atop their head, and even the female is reddish, so why not just call the species Crested Redbird? I can’t think of any reason why not, so “Crested Redbird” (with a dark face) is now its “Lang-Official” name and I expect the rest of the world to use my name in preference to the catholicized version. Well, why not?
No criticism of the Church is intended here; it wasn’t the Catholic Church that named the bird, rather the bird was named in reference to the Church. I say name the bird in reference to itself, which seems the most logical and reverent thing to do.
Please chime in with your personal thoughts on this very important matter!