Birds: What’s in a Name?


Birds: What's In A Name? by Peter Barry

  • Birds: What’s in a Name? by Peter Barry (New Holland, London, 2017).
  • 210 pages, 100 colour photos, 30 black-and-white illustrations.
  • ISBN 9781925546040. Hbk, £16.99.
  • Available from the Bookshop from £14.99.

This is a book about bird names: both the scientific ones based (usually) on Latin or Greek – or occasionally a mixture – and the English names. In these pages you will learn that the gorgeous wader known as Terek Sandpiper to us in English, and which has the scientific name of Xenus cinereus, is named after the River Terek which flows into the Caspian Sea and from the Greek word xenos meaning strange and the Latin cinereus meaning ash-grey. If you want hundreds more such explanations of bird nomenclature from all around the world then this is the book for you.

I like words and I like birds, and I found quite a few interesting examples in these pages. There are some introductory remarks and quite a few attractive images of birds to break up the text. This is definitely not a book to read from cover to cover – it is literally a list of bird names from A to Z. It is, rather, a book to dip into, and to reach for when you come across a new bird name and are wondering where it came from.

I’m old enough to have an O-Level in Latin and I did Greek for a year at school but I needed this book to learn with interest where the name Pagophila eburnea comes from, and I look forward to seeing one some day.

Few will find this book a ‘must have’ but many will regard it as a ‘nice to have’.

Page from Birds: What's in a name? by Peter Barry

Written by: Dr Mark Avery