How to use this book

This book is divided into three main parts: 1. A collection of bird names. 2. Appendices consisting firstly of bird names in the dead languages, and secondly of filiations or paradigms where the meaning of the names can be found.

The bird species are classified according to a systematic order slightly modified to fit the present needs. Each species is numbered. Only European and Middle Eastern birds are mentioned, with the exception of a few well-known imported species (chicken, turkey, guinea-fowl, parrot and canary) or species whose names have come into the spoken language by way of literature (ostrich, albatros, frigate-bird, gyrfalcon).

Under each species, the names are listed by language, starting by the most westerly languages (the Gaelic of Ireland) and extending to the Indo-European languages of Afghanistan and neighbouring regions, followed by Caucasian and Hamito-Semitic languages, and finally Romany or Gypsy. The abbrevations "o.liter." or "a.litt." have been used instead of "old" as in "old English", "ancien français" etc.

Under each language, the list of names begins with an "official" name (underscored) which is the one used in ornithology. As with scientific names, the name of the genus of the official name begins with a capital letter. The official name is often an artificial creation; it should never be taken for a popular name. In this glossary it is usually followed by the dialectical names it is related to. The names classified according to category (acoustic, chromatic, etc.) are grouped together. In each group the names are arranged according to their resemblance, generally beginning with the simplest, thus in theory the oldest, forms. I have omitted the capitals from all the dialectal names, except when the name is obviously a geographical one.

Each group of names is followed by an arrow pointing to an appendix in volume II, or a species number in volume I. The reader who would like to find the origin or meaning (semantic content) for the French name "alouette" will find the variants of the name at number 297, French, and at the end of this group of variants a referral to a 5.11.5 (of vol. II)..

Of course this requires some effort, but users will be able to judge for themselves the logic and legitimacy of the word's place in the filiation and semantic structure.

Finally, I invite the users' sympathy regarding the absence of literary sources for each name. Such quotations would have more than doubled the size of the book. And they would in most cases have been reduced to citing the first source, for this volume is primarily a compilation of compilations, of which the original source has often remained out of my reach. Thus a name attested in the "centre" of France, Berry, Indre and Issoudun, has perhaps only been attested once, at Issoudun; similarly for Poitou, Bas-Gatinais, Deux-Sèvres, Niort; or Dauphiné, Isère, Terres-Froides, Virieu.

To make up for this lack, I have provided a second bibliography in chronological order for each language. This can help users to find their way back to the original source if they so desire. For the francophone area, this task is made considerably easier by the indispensable supplements to the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch by Wartburg : Verzeichnis der Abkürzungen für Literatur Nachweise (1950) and Supplement zur 2. Auflage des bibliographischen Beiheftes (1957).

Notices on particular languages


"What do you call those birds ? - Bless you, curlews we generally

call'em, but when we're vexed, we call'em beggars."

Count Smorltork to a citizen of the Eastern Counties

Four compilations have been published on British bird names. Swainson (1885) has consulted relatively few dialectal glossaries. Although Swann (1913) lists Wright's Dialectal dictionary in his bibliography, many names from this voluminous work have been overlooked. Jackson (1968) gives no bibliography; the names listed are mainly from the works just cited and from ornithological sources. Lockwood (1984), not an ornithologist, adds the views of a linguist to his "etymologies", often most unconvincingly. None of these authors has drawn on the the rich vocabulary of the local dialects such as those published by the English Dialect Society. I have endeavoured to compile as many names as possible from that admirable collection, from the people who have named the living things, the people who are the ultimate source of the names. (See Chronological bibliography, English.). An interesting account can be found in the Shell bird book by James Fisher (1960), Chapter 2, "The naming of birds".


This collection of German names is quite incomplete. The dialectal wealth of the German language can be appraised by consulting the names of the Magpie, No. 288. Many names collected by Wuest, 1970 have been "germanized", i.e. stripped from their dialectal form such as found, for instance, in Studer & Fatio, 1889-1956. East Frisian is included with German.


For Dutch localities, see Blok & Stege, 1995. West Frisian and Flemish are included with Dutch.

Scandinavian languages

Danish includes Faroese names. For Danish localities, see Brøndegaard, 1985. For Swedish localities, see Hortling, 1944.


Most bird names in the Gaelic languages have not been attested in a precise locality. Thus it is often impossible to say whether the name is (or was) actually in use in a local speech or if it is a bookish translation of an English name, which is often the case. The same may be said about the Welsh language.


Gallo-Romance names include all francophone regions (the Walloon region, Romandie Switzerland, Val d'Aoste Italy, Gascony and Languedoc) as well as Provençal names for which the precise locality is attested. Bird names of the Vaudois in the Piedmont are almost all of Provençal origin; they are included in the Gallo-Romance area.


Under "Prov." are included only the names given as "Provençal" or occasionally "Occitan" without indication of the precise locality. Provençal names for which a precise locality is given are included in the general Gallo-Romance area ("Franç.").


Under "Esp." are in included Galician but not Catalan names.


Under "Ital." are included names from all of Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Istria, and the Romansh and Germanic names of northern Italy (but not Gallo-Romance names from the Val d'Aoste or Provençal names from the Piedmont).


Romansh (Rheto-romansch) names include only the canton of the Grisons (Graubünden) and not the Romansh areas of northern Italy.


The names of birds found in Greece include Aromanian and Greek names from Cappadocia. Names in ancient Greek are the subject of Appendix 1.12.


We know of very few regional bird names in this extraordinary language which is none other than an Illyrian speech (heavily loaded with words from Turkish, Slavic and Italian vocabulary). It is possible that dialectological studies have been published recently, but they are not available, or they are difficult to obtain.

Slavic languages

The transliteration of Cyrillic characters is that used in linguistics; in addition, the Russian /ë/ and the Ukranian /ï/ have been maintained (= "jo" and "ji").

For Bulgarian there are practically no collections of bird names, and dialectological studies are practically unavailable, to my knowledge, in Western countries. This is all the more regrettable since Bulgaria has been a centre of human migration, and the Bulgarian Slavic language has a rich substratum of Greek and Aromanian, Turkish borrowings, and an Oriental origin. The official bird names are from Patef (1950).

For Slovakian localities, refer to the publication by Ferianc (1958).

Under "Sbc." are listed Slovene and Macedonian. For localities in former Yugoslavia, refer to the excellent book by Hirtz (1934-1947), one of the best collections of bird names ever published.

Most of the names in Ukrainian, Polish and Kashub have been furnished by the work of Majewski (1889-1898). For practical reasons, Kashub, Pomeranian, Polabian and Sorbian have generally been included under "Pol.".


"The translations had to be framed not with a view to the exact pronunciation of the word which in any language can only be acquired to perfection by oral teaching, but to give equivalents of the graphical from of the consonants and vowels to the language in question" (Steingass, 1977). The transliteration of modern Persian names follows that proposed by the Iranological Society, mostly: x = kh (as in other Iranian languages), q = gh and o = û.

Under "Iran" can be found Baluchi but not Kurdish names. D.1461 signifies that the name is of Altaic origin, as given by Doerfer (1963).


Kurdish includes Kurdish names from Iran, Iraq and Turkey.


The Indo-Iranian names included here come not only from Pashto, but also from neighbouring regions (Pamirs, Chitral, Burushaski, Shina, Balti, Dardes and Kafirs).


The transcriptions are far from uniform since they originate with different authors. In many cases, the names have been collected directly in Roman script by ornithologists working in European languages. This is certainly no reason for ignoring names which have been attested only in such forms. In order to illustrate the difficulties of transcription in only one country, Egypt, I would like to quote Goodman in P.F. Houligan, 1986, p. 143: "The linguistic pattern of Egypt is very complex. Generalizations about regional pronunciation are offered with reservations. In particular, pronunciation of the literary Arabic qaaf /q/ and jiim /j/ varies considerably. Qaaf is probably not pronounced as /q/ anywhere in Egypt; in Cairo and in some other places it becomes a glottal stop, indistinguishable in speech from the hamza, while in rural areas and among the Bedouin it is often pronounced as gimm (a hard g). Thus saqr (generic for falcons) may be heard as sa'r or sagr, but probably not as saqr. The jiim /j/ in Cairo and many other localities becomes hard /g/. In general, it may be said that where the qaaf is pronounced as /g/ the jiim will be retained as a soft /j/. The letter dhaal /dh/ is pronounced often as a true /d/, but in literal pronunciation resembles the /th/ of 'this'. Thaa /th/ is pronounced in literary Arabic as in 'thing', but often becomes /s/ in spoken usage." Such difficulties would be greatly multiplied if one tried to include all the speeches from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. See also the notice under "Persian", above. (Note: for technical reasons, it has not been possible, at the time of writing, to indicate the emphatic consonants, except for the emphatic /h/).

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