--- On Sun, 2/14/10, Ted Floyd <tedfloyd57@...> wrote:
> Hello, Birders.
[snip examples of things named after people with no
> All of the preceding are named for some person. My guess
> is, all of the preceding look basically "normal" to you.
> Now, how about the following:
> 22. Dall sheep
> 23. Douglas squirrel
> 24. Weddell seal
Nope. Until now, I didn't know whether the Dall sheep
and the Weddell seal were named after a place or a
> And now for the kicker:
> 25. Steller's Jay
> Why? Why do we do that? Why do we write Steller's Jay, with
> an apostrophe-s? Why isn't it Steller Jay? After all, we
> don't write or say Turner's Field, or Doppler's effect, or
> Jefferson's Township. Well, the reason--the only reason--is
> because the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) says so.
> The AOU, right from the get-go, in the late 19th century,
> has told us to write Steller's Jay, Wilson's Warbler,
> Botteri's Sparrow, and so forth. But why? How come? Why has
> the AOU always insisted on an apostrophe-s?
The names existed well before the AOU. For instance,
Townsend named Audubon's Warbler in 1834. The first
hit I can find for "Audubon Warbler" at Google Books
is from Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, /A History of North
American Birds/ (1874), and there's nothing after that
till the apostrophe-s-less form starts an undeserved
period of popularity in 1895.
> In modern English, the apostrope-s is used to denote
> possession, as in Obama's shoes, or Erlenmeyer's house, or
> Salk's notebook. If something *belongs to* someone, then you
> use the apostrophe-s.
And many other times, too, as in "St. Valentine's Day",
as Lynea Hinchman noted, or "my country", or "Ashley's
favorite teacher", or "Ted Floyd's counterpart at
> But if something is *named for*
> someone, you do not. Thus: "Steller's shotgun" or "Steller's
> horse," to denote Steller's possession of those things. But
> it should be Steller Jay and Steller Sea-Eagle, to denote
> that those things have been named after Steller.
There are a few exceptions even for geographic names,
as in the names of some of the taller mountains in
But we use possessives to name things after people
all the time. Newton's method, Bernoulli's equation
(but Bernoulli polynomials), Cox's orange pippin,
Wood's metal, Broca's area, Barnard's star, etc.
> And that, in a nutshell, is what has happened, I believe,
> with formulations such as "Steller's Jay." Yes, the Latin
> name of the species is "stelleri." But it's not necessarily
> correct--and I submit it's simply wrong--to "translate" that
> into English as "Steller's." The proper, and properly
> understood, English should be Steller, as in Steller Jay.
I find it totally natural to name something after its
discoverer with an apostrophe-s. And, of course, it
keeps people who hear the name from thinking the jay
is like a star, as others have said.
The oldest examples I can think of in English of
thing's named after "people" are Tiw's Day, Woden's
Day, Thor's Day, Frigga's Day, and Saturn(s'?) Day.
(Skeat gives forms for the Anglo-Saxon origiinals of
Saturday both with and without "s", so I don't know
whether they were all genitives. According to various
Web references, the others were genitives.) So this
has been going on for a long time.
Of course, there might be Latin influence--"Tiwes
daeg" was a "translation" of "dies Martis", Mars's
Day. But if so, I think it's firmly a part of
> To some extent, we birders already know these things. We
> unselfconsciously, and quite logically, say and write things
> like, "I heard a few thrushes migrating last night...a half
> dozen Hermits, a dozen Swainson's, and a late Veery." We
> certainly don't say (or write) "Swainson'ses." (As in,
> "keeping up with the Joneses.) And here's a more telling
> example: "We saw some nice raptors...2 Harlan's, 2 Roughies,
> 3 Coops, and a Sharpie." Note: The bird is a Coop. Not a
> Coop's. And the plural is Coops. Not Coop's or Coop'ses.
I actually do a problem there. However, the fact
that we also saw two Gray-cheeks, or a Gray-cheek,
doesn't mean we have to change the name to Gray-cheek
Thrush. (Not that I've ever seen one.) So I'm
happy to write either "Swainson's" or "Swainsons" for
the plural of "Swainson's", in the informal contexts
where these abbreviations are used.
There's also another problem, exemplified by Lynea
Hinchman's quotation from Wikipedia: "a Wilson's
Warbler" and especially "the Wilson's Warbler" sound
odd because we normally don't use "the" and "a"
before before possessives. (For more information,
look up "determiner".) I think we can handle this.
> Alright, I'm outta here, for a stroll around my local
> patch. I hope the Cooper Hawk is still around!
/Your/ patch? Does it belong to you? :-)
I think we could solve the whole thing with "Stellerian
Jay", like "Blackburnian Warbler".