I've read many pieces about the people after whom birds are named, and
it struck me recently that most of them are male. Not surprising, since
there must have been many more male ornithologists than women; but there
are nevertheless many birds named after women. Because of the regularity
of Latin grammar, we can find a considerable number just by looking for
names that end in -ae.
Alas, the majority of matching names are toponyms. Some of these names
are obvious, like novaehollandiae and novaeseelandiae,
which account for 23 species between them. But many more are obscure,
and there's no way to exclude them en masse. One must go through
the list one entry at a time to discard the place names. One notable
example of this genre is adeliae, which refers to Adélie
Land, named after Adélie Vicomtesse Dumont d’Urville, wife of a
French Antarctic explorer. Another problem comes from male names which
have been Latinised as -ae (e.g. Matsudaira, Fea). When these and other
complications are eliminated, we are left with just under a hundred
Only a handful of these names belong to women whose contributions to
ornithology are well-documented.
Maria Emilia Ana Koepcke, a famous German ornithologist and explorer in
Peru, has a Screech-owl, a Cacique, and a Hermit named koepckeae
The Dot-winged Antwren Microrhopias [quixensis] emiliae is named
after Henriette Mathilde Maria Emilie Snethlage, another German
ornithologist in Brazil, and the Director of the Goeldi Museum.
Eleonora's Falcon Falco eleonorae is named after Giudicessa
Eleonora d'Arborea of Sardinia, who made a law protecting goshawks and
falcons at their nests… in the fourteenth century!
Marion A. Johnstone, an English aviculturalist, has three birds named
johnstoniae after her.
Therese Charlotte Maria Anna Princess of Bavaria, a zoologist and
explorer, has two birds named theresiae after her.
British ornithologist Beryl Patricia Hall had a bird named hallae
after her (but I can't figure out what species it was).
The Jos Plateau Indigobird Vidua maryae is named after Mary Dyer
for her field work on indigobirds in Nigeria.
The delightfully-named Elfin-woods Warbler Dendroica angelae is
named after New Zealand zoologist and conservationist Dr. Angela Kay
The Afghan Snowfinch Pyrgilauda theresae was named after Theresa
Clay, a British expert on bird lice.
The Golden-rumped Flowerpecker Dicaeum annae is named after Anna
A. Weber van Bosse, a Dutch botanist and collector in the East Indies.
Otus ireneae and Metallura odomae are named after Irene
Morden and Babette Odom, sponsors and bird-watchers in Kenya and Peru
Lulu's Tody-tyrant Poecilotriccus luluae is named after Lulu May
von Hagen in recognition of her support for research in avian genetics.
The remainder of the names belong to queens, princesses, and minor
nobility; and wives, sisters, and daughters (with many overlaps; the
wives of nobles inclined towards nature being especially likely to have
birds dedicated to them). In particular, many species described in the
nineteenth century mania for hummingbirds and sunbirds were named after
women. A couple of people named birds after their mothers. I do not know
the extent to which any of these ladies were themselves interested in
ornithology, but more than a few of them are known to have participated
in collecting expeditions to unexplored places; and one can only wonder
how much more credit may have been due to them that they did not get. In
any case, the list of women ornithologists above is certainly
The commonest female eponyms are victoriae, helenae,
mariae, and johannae.
French mothers with birds named after them outnumber all others (Dutch,
Two queens of the Netherlands (Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria, Juliane
Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina), and the queens of Russia (Sophia Maria
Alexandrovna), Saxony (Carola Friedrike Franziska Stephanie Amalie
Cecilie), France (Eugénie), and England (Victoria) have birds
named after them (mostly one each, despite the profusion of easily
Latin-isable names between them).
A dozen princesses are represented, mostly from nineteenth-century
Europe, which had no shortage of them; but my favourite name belongs to
the mysterious White-eyed River-martin Pseudochelidon sirintarae,
named after Princess Sirindhorn Thepratanasuda for her interest in the
wildlife of Thailand. Another fine example is Stephanie's Astrapia
Astrapia stephaniae, after Stephanie Princess of Belgium.
- The Aztec emperor Montezuma's sister Papantzin and four other
sisters have birds named after them, including Grace's Warbler
Dendroica graciae after Grace Darling Coues, sister of
ornithologist Elliott Coues.
- The daughters of ornithologists are likewise very well-represented.
Some of my favourites (names, not daughters) include the Thekla Lark
Galerida theklae after Thekla Brehm, White-browed Rosefinch
Carpodacus thura after Thura Nilsson, and Mountain Serin
Serinus estherae after Esther Finsch.
- The mother, sister, and niece of explorer Captain Boyd Alexander all
have birds named after them (not to mention a few boydies named
after the good Captain himself).
- The two wives—Clémence and Zoë—and two
daughters—Cécile and Anaïs—of French naturalist René
Lesson, have a hummingbird, an imperial pigeon, a ground dove, and a
myna named after them.
- Likewise, Jules Bourcier named hummingbirds after his daughter
Francia and wife Aline (and more than a few other people's wives and
- Two seabirds are named after explorers' ships (traditionally
female): Vega Gull and Magenta Petrel
The wives of explorers and ornithologists are by far the most numerous
source of eponyms. (Update 2015-11-01: I started writing this in
March 2011, and gave up on doing justice to the list of wives four and a
half years later.)
Many genera were named after women (Berenicornis,
Dulciornis, Ethelornis, Rosina), but have been
renamed since. A few such names have survived. Enriqueta Iñez
Cherrie, daughter of ornithologist George Cherrie, lends her name to a
genus of four South American Tyrant Flycatchers (whose common names are
also Inezia). Prince Bonaparte, a French ornithologist, named a genus
after daughter Bathilde, an imperial pigeon after his other daughter
Charlotte, and a dove after his wife Zénaïde. The latter
name is now given to a genus of doves, including the Zenaida Dove
Zenaida aurita. Two Antshrikes Mackenziaena spp. are named
after Helen Mackenzie McConnell, wife of English collector Frederick
McConnell. Claudia Reinard, wife of German ornithologist Ernst Hartert,
had both her names given to birds: Claudia and Reinarda,
but neither name is still in use today.
Edithornis and edithae were names given to unrelated
species after unrelated Ediths (the latter being British botanist and
entomologist Edith Cole). Neither is still in use. But Lady Mary
Macgregor, wife of explorer Sir William Macgregor, apart from being one
of the mariae mentioned earlier, also gives her last name to a
Bird-of-paradise Macgregoria pulchra and a Bowerbird
Amblyornis macgregoriae. (But the Small Niltava Niltava
macgrigoriae is named after an unrelated Jane MacGrigor, daughter of
an Army doctor.) Elizabeth Gould, artist and wife of prolific
trochilidist John Gould, had a finch Gouldaeornis gouldiae and a
sunbird Aethopyga gouldiae named after her (many of Gould's South
American hummingbirds are given female names whose origins are unknown).
There are many female eponyms that do not end in -ae, while others are
no longer in use. Such names can be discovered only by stumbling across
them. I've included some of them in the list above. There are also many
female names whose origins are untraceable. Some examples are
adela, catharina, eva, francescae,
georginae, heloisa, lydiae, and werae. The
last is a subspecies of the Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola,
Wera being the Polish form of Vera.
I have no useful data about subspecific female eponyms, but I know there
are a few. One example I happened upon is Spelaeornis troglodytoides
indiraji, named after Indira Gandhi, a former Indian Prime Minister.
Another name I like is Strix [leptogrammica] indranee, but Sykes
did not explain its origin, and it's probably named after the mythical
wife of the god Indra, not a real woman.
Mythology, mostly Greek, is another rich source of female names both
generic (e.g. Alcyone, Atthis, Sappho) and specific
(e.g. amphitrite, andromedae, antigone). But, like
indranee, mythological names are technically not eponyms but
autochthonyms, or indigenous names. (Speaking of ancient Greece,
Xanthippe, wife of Socrates, had a bird named after her too.)
Finally, an inversion of the principle—the painter (of birds, among
other things) Dafila Scott
was named after a bird, Dafila being the genus of Pintail ducks
(now absorbed into Anas as a subgenus). I know of bird-watcher's
daughters named Irena (from Greek mythology) and Yuhina
(from a Nepali name). I wonder if there are any women named after birds
who were named after women.
If you know of other names that belong on this page, please write to me.
The Slender-Billed Scimitar Babbler Xiphirhynchus superciliaris
has always felt somewhat mystical while flipping through the Babblers in
any field guide. I've never seen one, but the photographs posted to the
delhibirdpix list by Sujan Chatterjee in May 2008 and Ramki Sreenivasan
a year later, both taken in Arunachal Pradesh, have stayed in my memory.
Unfortunately, I can find only one of these photographs on Google Groups
now, and I can't figure out any sane way to link to that post here. But
Google Images finds
of the species, including
Anyway, Xiphirhynchus superciliaris was somewhere at the back of
my mind when I recently encountered a casual reference to the unrelated
South American genus of Woodcreepers: Xiphorhynchus. These are
essentially the same word, derived from the Greek xiph- (for "sword")
and -rhynchus ("snout" or "nose", meaning beak)!
A long time ago, I was delighted to notice—by accident—that the
Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon Treron phoenicopterus has, as its
specific name, the same name given to the genus of Flamingos. And what
a name it is! Phoenicopterus, meaning "crimson-wing", from the Greek
φοίνικ- (phoenic-, for "blood red", the
root of Phoenix and
derived from φόνος, fonos, for "slaughter") and
pteron (for wing).
This weekend, armed with a not-terribly-recent checklist of birds and a
little spare time, I wrote a small Perl script to look for other names
given to both a genus and a different species (that is to say, I
ignored the relatively better-known examples of one bird having the same
generic and specific name, such as Coccothraustes coccothraustes
and Pica pica). Here are some of the most interesting results.