Questions for ‘Racism lurks in many plant and animal names. That’s now changing’

A Scott's oriole, with black neck and head, black-and-white wings and yellow underbelly, perched on a branch

The Scott’s oriole (pictured) is one of dozens of North American birds named after people. The oriole bears the name of Winfield Scott, who was a U.S. military commander. Scott coordinated the forced removal of Cherokee people and other Native Americans from their land during the 1800s.

Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

To accompany Racism lurks in many plant and animal names. That’s now changing.’  


Before Reading:

  1. When was the last time that you felt hurt or offended by something someone else said? If the other person explained to you that they did not mean to hurt your feelings, would that make what they said okay? Explain why or why not.

During Reading:

  1. What is the Trail of Tears? Why might Stephen Hampton associate the Scott’s oriole with the Trail of Tears? How does he feel about now living outside the bird’s range?
  2. What is the difference between a scientific name and a common name? In theory, which would probably be easier to change and why?
  3. Jessica Ware is a scientist called an entomologist. What does an entomologist study?
  4. What is the name of the society that launched the Better Common Names Project? What is the goal of the Better Common Names Project?
  5. What major 2020 event led to the ornithology society changing its bird-naming policies?
  6. Hampton has an idea for renaming the Scott’s oriole. What is it? Why does he think this would be a good name for the bird?

After Reading:

  1. The Entomological Society of America, or ESA, is inviting suggestions for renaming the moth Lymantria dispar and the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides that are mentioned in the article. Take a few minutes to research each one, then pick one. Next, draw the moth or ant on a blank piece of paper, and write its scientific name underneath. Based on your research, what are three interesting facts you learned about this creature?  Write those facts below the scientific name. Finally, come up with new names for this moth or ant, and write your favorite at the top. Share your creation with someone who chose a different creature.
  2. Imagine this scenario: Your best friend has the same name as the name of your school’s mascot. Other students tease her for that. To help your friend, you decide to persuade your classmates to work with you in changing the mascot’s name. What steps would you take to achieve this goal? Would this change be easy or hard? State one problem that you might encounter. Identify one benefit that could come from going through the work of changing this mascot’s name. What kinds of people could this change help in the future?
  3. Hampton says that while changing so many names may be “painful,” it’s still worth it. Consider that imaginary scenario in the last question involving your best friend and the school’s mascot. What similarities exist between Hampton’s conclusion and your answers to the mascot scenario? In what ways are these two problems similar? In what ways are these two problems different?