Sweden’s Ornothologial Society has renamed a number of bird species amidst fears that their old names could be considered racist. Amongst others, four bird species with the word “neger” in their name will have it changed to “svart”, the Swedish word for “black” instead.
The changes came after the Society decided to compile a definitive list of the Swedish language names for all bird species. Other changes include renaming swifts, which are known as “kaffer” or “caffer” in Swedish, as the word sounds too similar to “kaffir”, which they say is a derogatory word used by white South Africans for black South Africans, The Local has reported.
“We haven’t had an official list of what all the birds in the world are called in Swedish until now, we just had an unofficial list put together about ten years ago,” said Anders Wirdheim, Information Officer at Sweden’s Ornothological Society.
“We kept getting more and more questions from translators of Swedish TV programmes and books wanting to know what exactly different bird names were or meant, so we decided to compile a list and while we were doing that we decided to change the names of any birds that could have stirred up a debate,” he added.
Other alterations include renaming a species of dabbling duck, which will no longer be known as “hottentots” as that term was used by colonialists for an indigenous South African tribe called the Khoikhoi. It is thought to refer to their language, which uses clicking sounds.
And “Zigenarfågel” which translates as “gypsy bird” will take on the English name “hoatzin”, a type of tropical pheasant found in swamps and forests.
The full list was completed three weeks ago and includes Swedish names for 10,709 bird species. Bird watching is a popular pass-time in Sweden. The Society boasts 17,000 members, and estimates that 30 to 40,000 people nationwide participate in birdwatching on a regular basis. But the name changes haven’t caused much of a stir amongst the Swedish media, although fans have been tweeting and posting images of the species in question.
“I thought it would be a few reactions, but there have not been so many,” Erling Jirle a researcher at the University of Lund and bird enthusiast told Swedish newspaper Sydvenskan.