"Wisdom begins with putting the right name on a thing"
(Old Chinese Proverb)

History

The nonscientific names of birds differ for the same species on different continents and vary annoyingly from list to list. On a world wide basis, different species may have the same name. Nearly twenty years ago, the leadership of the IOC saw the need for authoritative lists of  vernacular names. First came French names (Devillers and Ouellet 1993), then Spanish names (Bernis 1995).

English names were especially challenging. They took more than fifteen years to negotiate and compile.

We believe that an improved system of standardized English names will foster success in ornithology and the conservation of birds worldwide. Names based on logical rules and consensus should aid clear and crisp communication among global stakeholders. The stakeholders include government officials, publishers, and philanthropists, many of whom are not comfortable with or literate in scientific names. Global birders also desire improved unity and greater simplicity of English names. So do conservation biologists and the editors of the books on birds. All such stakeholders need to communicate clearly without using hyphens in four different ways and without trying to reconcile the treatment of names in different authoritative works. We truly believe that the list of names recommended here has important strengths, and, if used widely, will promote consistency, authority and better conservation.

The project to recommend English names of every extant bird species in the world was set in motion at the 1990 meeting of the IOC, which appointed a committee of eminent ornithologists to consider the matter. The late Burt L. Monroe Jr. was named as chair of the committee, and he in turn named eleven well-known ornithologists as committee members.

Monroe created an initial list of all the species and subspecies of birds from the monumental Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World authored by himself and Charles Sibley. The project had to have a starting point, and this was a natural one. Monroe and his committee engaged in extended preliminary discussions and debates. Their votes on a series of issues revealed a great deal of disagreement on how birds should be named and what the jurisdiction of the committee should be. The project thus proved to be more difficult and time-consuming than had been expected, and Monroe died before much had been accomplished. The project then went into abeyance.

It was revived in late 1994 by Frank Gill and Walter Bock. Speaking for the IOC, Bock invited Gill to take over the project, which he did early in 1995. Gill asked Minturn Wright, a lawyer by profession and world birder by avocation, to act as recording secretary and organizer of the process the project would follow. Bock named Gill and Wright to act as co-chairs of the committee. Gill then asked each person on Monroe ‘s committee to rejoin the project; most of them did. Gill expanded the committee by the addition of another twelve or thirteen eminent ornithologists, bringing the committee to twenty-eight ornithologists from fourteen countries (see Participants ) plus the co-chairs (Gill and Wright) for a total of thirty. The committee operated through six regional subcommittees, chaired as follows: Palearctic – Christopher Perrins; Nearctic – Stephen M. Russell; Africa – the late G. Stuart Keith and Peter G. Ryan; Neotropics – Robert S. Ridgely; Oriental Region – Nigel Redman; Australasia – Richard Schodde.