Many common names for plant, animal and insect species, including the gypsy moth and Scott’s oriole, have been called “racist” by scientists seeking change.
In July, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) removed the term “gypsy” from the names of a moth and an ant because it is seen as a slur on the Roma.
The society has since launched a public call for alternative common names for the moth Lymantria dispar and ant Aphenogaster araneoides.
Many species were named by early naturalists and studies of the things around them, people making a mark at the time and using terms that were acceptable to them.
“We can choose a language that reflects our shared values,” said Jessica Ware, President-elect of ESA ScienceNews, speaking of the Better Common Names project.
It already bans new names that “perpetuate negative stereotypes” and asks for public input on which existing names should be changed in the future.
The society has since launched a public call for alternative common names for the moth Lymantria dispar (pictured) and ant Aphenogaster araneoides
NEW RULES FOR COMMON NAMES IN INSECTS
These new rules were created by the Entomological Society of America under their Better Common Names program.
- A common name must be three words or less, but four are allowed if warranted.
- A common name proposal must document a stage or attribute to which the proposed common name refers. Distinguishing physical features that well distinguish the species are helpful.
- Specific words used as modifiers (adjectives, adverbs) in a general name should be easy to pronounce and generally understandable to a wide audience.
- Common names with words that unnecessarily incite insult, fear, or promote negative emotional reactions (eg, epidemic, murder, invasion) are strongly discouraged.
- Descriptors of cultures, populations, ethnicity, race and industries, occupations are generally not acceptable.
- The use of a geographic descriptor in a common name proposal is generally discouraged and requires additional justification.
- All words must be in lowercase except proper names which are traditionally capitalized in English.
Birder and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Stephen Hampton, told ScienceNews that Scott’s oriole should be renamed, among other things.
This is due to the fact that it was named after Winfield Scott, a 19th-century American military commander who drove Native Americans from their lands in a march that resulted in thousands of deaths.
So far, more than 80 “insensitive names” have been spotted by the Better Common Names Project.
Ware says the goal is to “include everyone” in the new naming system and to remove offensive names from the list.
In the case of the “gypsy moth,” it says it encourages people to refer to the insect by its Latin name, Lymantria dispar, until it can judge the more than 100 proposals for a new name.
Species have a certain scientific name, stylized in Latin, but from the beginning of the 20th century scientists began to give plants, insects and animals a common name.
This was done to bridge the communication gap with people not studying the species, in order to get more attention for them.
However, according to ESA, “not all common names accepted over the past 120 years are in line with the goal of better communication” due to racist connections.
Some names given to species have already been changed, such as the jewfish, which was renamed the Goliath grouper in 2001 after a petition citing its insult.
ESA says their library contains names that contain anomalous terms, names for invasive species with inappropriate geographic references, and names that “incorrectly take into account how the insect might be called by indigenous communities.”
“These problematic names perpetuate harm to people of different ethnicities and races,” an association spokesperson said.
Birder and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Stephen Hampton says Scott’s oriole (pictured) should be renamed due to the fact that it was named after Winfield Scott, a 19th-century American military commander who drove Native Americans from their lands
They add that they “create an entomological and cultural environment that is unwelcome and uninclusive, interferes with communication and reach, and counteracts the very purpose of common names.”
For example, a number of scorpions, fish, birds and flowers are labeled Hottentot, which is a term of abuse for the Khoikhoi people of southern Africa.
Other names honor people who, by modern standards, would not be considered viable candidates to give their name to a common species.
Endemic to the southeastern US, Bachman’s sparrow is named after Lutheran pastor and naturalist John Bachman.
An example of this change already taking place is in the form of the McCown’s longspur, originally named after Confederate General John P McCown, and now known simply as the thick-billed longspur, after its thick bill.
SOME SPECIES NAMES HAVE ALREADY CHANGED
McCown’s long track – named after Confederate General John P. McCown was changed to thick-billed longspur in 2021, named for its thick bill.
the jew — was renamed the Goliath grouper in 2001 after a petition drew attention to its insult.
Squawfish — was once the name given to four species now known as Pikeminnow, changed in 1998 because squaw is an offensive term for Native American women.
Despite serving slaves as a preacher and declaring that black and white people are the same species, he was a slave owner who championed the practice.
“Blacks and Native Americans would always have been against these names,” Hampton told ScienceNews.
In fact, bird names in general seem to be one of the most problematic with a specific campaign called “Bird Names for Birds” launching in 2020 to switch to more descriptive common names.
“It’s not an all-in-one solution,” East Carolina University’s Robert Driver told ScienceNews, but said that in addition to removing difficult names, it would be a useful “consideration for anyone out with binoculars.” .
The murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests appear to have changed things, with the American Ornithological Society now considering a person’s role in “despicable events” as a valid reason to revise a bird’s name.
An example of this change already taking place is in the form of the McCown’s longspur, originally named after Confederate General John P McCown, and now simply known as the thick-billed longspur, for its thick bill.
Hampton says Scott’s oriole should be next, suggesting it should be known as the yucca oriole instead, as these are the plants it is most associated with.
But the process of changing the bird names has stalled as the ornithological society contemplates a new name change process.
Mike Webster, Cornell University ornithologist and president of the association, said they were “determined to change these harmful and exclusive names.”
Ware says it’s important to do it right and adds it as “uncomfortable now,” but when done correctly, it ensures that it “only happens once” and names last a long time.
Details on the Better Common Names project are available from the Entomological Society of America.
Researchers claim Earth is experiencing a ‘man-made’ sixth mass extinction with the ‘biological destruction’ of wildlife
The world has experienced five mass extinctions throughout its history, and experts claim we’re seeing another one happening now.
A 2017 research paper claimed that a “biological destruction” of wildlife in recent decades has caused the sixth mass extinction and says the planet is headed for a “global crisis.”
Scientists warn that humanity’s voracious consumption and wanton destruction is what caused the event, the first major extinction since the dinosaurs.
Two types of vertebrates, animals with a backbone, have become extinct every year on average for the past century.
Currently, about 41 percent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are facing extinction.
There are an estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species on our planet and about 86 percent of land species and 91 percent of marine species are still undiscovered.
Of those we do know, 1,204 mammal species, 1,469 birds, 1,215 reptiles, 2,100 amphibians, and 2,386 fish species are considered endangered.
Also threatened are 1,414 insects, 2,187 mollusks, 732 crustaceans, 237 coral, 12,505 plants, 33 mushrooms and six species of brown algae.
More than 25,000 species out of 91,523 assessed for the 2017 ‘Red List’ update were classified as ‘endangered’.
The number of invertebrates at risk has also peaked.
Scientists predict that insects could become extinct within 100 years as a result of the crippling population decline.
The beginning of the mass extinction coincides with the beginning of the Anthropocene – the geological era defined by human activity as the dominant influence on the climate and environment.