The Key to Scientific Names
Guide to Key Entries
THE KEY entries, showing all names in alphabetical order, conform to a general plan. In the interests of uniformity and clarity, note that neither generic nor specific headers are given in italics, the type-face (font) dictated by convention and properly used elsewhere in the texts and generally in the literature.
CLASSIFICATION, nomenclature, and substantive names follow The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World (sixth edition), 2007 (the last printed version), and its on-line successors husbanded by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of the World. Subsequent taxa and the generic and specific synonyms not listed in those works have been gleaned from numerous sources, and some results from new work are highlighted or anticipated. Note, however, that The Key is not a check-list and makes no attempt to validate or criticise the value of genera and names included therein. My goal is to provide etymologies for all avian scientific names that readers may encounter.
Nonetheless, the list of fossil and sub-fossil names included in The Key is probably incomplete. Initially inclined only to treat neospecies, i.e. modern birds known from reliable contemporary accounts, descriptions and illustrations, or remains found in middens, I am now persuaded to include those described from the Pleistocene as well as the current Holocene epochs, together forming the Quaternary period. Here, the catalogues of Pierce Brodkorb 1963-1978, and the lists of Tommy Tyrberg 2008, of Tommy Tyrberg, Markus Lagerqvist & Erling Jirle 2017, and of Fred Ruhe 2018, have been invaluable.
A simple or random search of The Key will reveal all scientific names showing the appropriate combination of letters (for example, Columba will not only show the etymology of that currently recognized genus, but also columba (a specific name), Columba (as a misspelling of the synonymic genus Colymbus), columbae (a specific toponym), columbanus (a misspelling of columbarius), columbarius (a specific name), Gallicolumba (a currently recognized generic name), and Terricolumba (a synonymized generic name). A search for the specific epithet oenas will show not only the simple name (with two definitions), but a plethora of generic terms combining that word, most of them in synonymy. Similarly, a search under the single initial letter c will yield over 3,000 results, from caatingensis to czarnikowi.
GENERIC headers, in both CAPITAL and Lowercase letters, may be resolved by the following examples of COLUMBA and Lithoenas: —
COLUMBA (Columbidae; Ϯ Stock Dove C. oenas) CAPITAL LETTERS = Columba, a currently recognised genus of the family Columbidae in The Clements Checklist and that the type species (symbol Ϯ ) of Columba is the Stock Dove Columba oenas. An extinct symbol in the header (e.g. ECTOPISTES ‡ ) indicates that all the members of the genus are extinct.
After the header, the preferred or correct etymology is shown, often supported by a modern popular source. Other suggested etymologies, of variable veracity, are included for the benefit of record.
Next, a quotation from the original diagnosis (OD), identifying the author, and often reinforcing the etymology or furnishing an explanation of the name. Quotations from the ODs of current and more recently recognised genera are complete or extensive. Excluding fossil genera, to date extremely few ODs remain unseen.
A citation to the type species follows (primarily from J. L. Peters Check-list of Birds of the World, vols. I–XV, 1931-1986). Subject to further reading, and to achieve a level of consistency, I have taken the liberty of creating type citations (referenced: (JAJ 2018) et seq.) where I have been unable to speedily locate earlier ones or where such are erroneous, ambiguous or incomplete. These are my personal interpretations of the Rules, and readers may wish to elaborate or amend my conclusions. In some cases, for the purposes of The Key only, I have fixed types by subsequent designation, and these can be treated as the basis for future work. The taxa included in Linnaeus’s (1758) original genera are listed in numerical order.
Penultimately, a list of variant spellings (Var.) of the genus name (whether current or synonymised). Most of these are misspellings or purist amendments, e.g. the use of different connectant vowels in compound words, the insertion of the correct genitive form, or the replacement of ‘barbarisms’ with classical equivalents. Some names with very different and not readily discernible etymologies are given their own entry, and treated as ‘updated’ synonyms. I have not deliberately sought errors, listing only those encountered during reading or which have been brought to my attention. Therefore, some easily comprehended inversion, transposition or omission of letters will not be found. Variant transcriptions of the Greek rough breathing (e.g. e for ἑ instead of he, r for ῥ instead of rh), and the older orthographies (e.g. resolution of æ and œ, J instead of I, u replacing v) are similarly treated, and readers should consider alternate spellings, especially when seeking early names.
Finally, an alphabetical list of relevant synonyms (Synon.), all of which have their own entries in The Key and may provide further elucidation. After the full valid header entry the symbols ● and ● see identify generic homonyms (e.g. CINCLUS) and generic variants (e.g. PINGUINUS ‡) respectively.
Lithoenas (Columbidae; syn. Columba Ϯ Rock Dove C. livia) Lowercase letters = Lithoenas, a synonym (syn.) of the currently recognised genus Columba, and that the type species (symbol Ϯ) of Lithoenas is the Rock Dove Columba livia. Readers will remember that the type species of a synonymised genus is not necessarily the same as that of the current ‘parent’ genus. An extinct symbol in the header (e.g.Trygon ‡ ) indicates that all the members of that genus are extinct.
After the header follow the etymology, quotation from the OD (or a reference to where that may be found elsewhere in the text (e.g. Maracanus)), type citation (subject to work in progress), and variations (if any), as above. The symbols ● and ● see identify generic homonyms (e.g. Ichthyaetus) and generic variants (e.g. Haematornis) respectively.
Specific headers (in lowercase letters) are followed by the etymology of the name and, many being self-evident (e.g. albirostris, olivaceus), require little further explanation (● being used to show early names based on non-Linnaean authors, variant etymologies, misspellings, taxonyms, formerly scorned tautonyms, and other items of interest (‡ = header taxon extinct: e.g. migratorius, wintu)). Note that the gender terminations -us,
-a, and -um may be separated alphabetically by other entries. The opening texts “Etymology undiscovered”, “Perhaps” and “Probably” signify that the original description (OD) did not include details of the etymology of the name, nor provide clues thereto, and that the solution has yet to be fully resolved. Where seen, the text of the OD is provided (e.g. gulgula, mouki) (Gr. = ancient Greek; L. = Latin; < = derived from).
Eponyms, with brief details of those honoured, are followed, in parentheses, by the genus, or genera in alphabetical order, in which the name is found (e.g. aagaardi, berlepschi) (subsp. = subspecies of; syn. = synonym of; ‡ = header taxon extinct: e.g. palmeri, pomarea). Note that the possessive terminations -i and -ii, frequently confused and interchanged, may be separated alphabetically by other entries. Eponyms honouring two or more different persons are distinguished with the symbol ● (e.g. smithi, wilsoni). The text “dedicatee not yet identified” reveals that the author did not name nor give any other indication to the person enshrined, and that the dedicatee has yet to be found. A citation to the OD, with appropriate text, is provided (e.g. disneyi, enidae). Here the unstinting input of a band of dedicated BirdForum readers, especially Björn Bergenholtz, Laurent Raty, Martin Schneider, Mark Brown, and Paul Scofield, must be praised and acknowledged.
Toponyms, most frequently identifiable by the locative suffix -ensis, again require little explanation. Historical names and their modern equivalents are separated by the solidus or forward slash /. Only those based on different geographical places, erroneous type localities (TL.), or early names (‡ = header taxon extinct: e.g. carolinensis), and identified by the symbol ●, are followed by the relevant genera or species alphabetically in parentheses (e.g. abyssinica, cordobae).
As a child of the 21st century The Key benefits from the facility to immediately update entries based on timely correspondence, regular housekeeping and editing, and scouring and checking the literature. Before quoting from The Key it is essential to consult the current entry / definition, since this could change within the twinkling of an eye. The Key has no viewable update function, as any current automatic database field could not distinguish between the minutiae of everyday editing (typos, etc.) and the insertion of important fresh definitions, and thus be too cumbersome to little advantage. I have made every effort to achieve accuracy, but with some 40,000 entries and sub-entries, and more than 1,640,000 words and symbols, regrettably a few typographical and transcription errors, or misreadings from other languages, may have escaped my notice. New and relevant information and clarification, constructive comment, and pertinent corrections are ever welcomed for consideration, inclusion and attribution. JAJ. February 2023