Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jersey Game Bird Names 1

In 1888, Gurdon Trumbull wrote a book called Names and Portraits of Birds Which Interest Gunners with Descriptions in Language Understanded of the People. Harper and Brothers published it, and I found a copy of it in a Maine used bookstore years ago for $25, but now you can find it on Google Books. How times change. The photo that illustrates this post is the gilt American Woodcock that adorns the cover of my copy.

According to French (1878), Trumbull was, "The finest fish-painter of America..." This was intended as a compliment, I should add. French went on to lament, "Unfortunately for the art, Mr. Trumbull's circumstances have been such that he has never been urged beyond the dictates of his fancy to follow a profession. Few of his pictures have come before the public: indeed, he has painted but very little."

Leaving aside the question of whether Gurdon Trumbull is America's great neglected fish-painter, I instead turn to his book of game bird names. Trumbull chronicled these names up and down the eastern seaboard, down to specific towns in many cases. He also cited nomenclature in places further afield, such as the British Isles (can you beat the name of "coal-and-candlelight" for Long-tailed Duck, formerly Oldsquaw? I assume this was was another example of onomatopoeia as given in the more commonly seen rendition of these ducks' calls as "owl omelet.") Trumbull worked in an era when regional names for animals were very much the norm. Think about that the next time you look at your AOU Check-list or your ABA list. In any case, Trumbull's book of game bird names is a precious linguistic legacy.

Future posts in this series will deal with specific NJ towns. Even in such a small state, where the towns in question might not be so far distant from each other, there were frequently striking differences in nomenclature. In the meantime, here are the names that Trumbull gave for the state as a whole, and of the "Jersey coast" as a smaller subset of it:

New Jersey
Black Sea-duck - Surf Scoter
Butter-box - Bufflehead
Horse-foot Snipe - Ruddy Turnstone
Pond Broad-bill - Lesser Scaup
Pond Saw-bill - Hooded Merganser
Rail-bird - Sora
Red-back - Dunlin
Widgeon - American Wigeon

Jersey coast
Fresh-water Mud-hen - Virginia Rail
Old Wife - Long-tailed Duck
Red Goose - Snow Goose

French, Harry Willard. 1878. Art and Artists in Connecticut. Lee & Shepard, Boston, MA. Google Books link
Trumbull, Gurdon. 1888. Names and Portraits of Birds Which Interest Gunners with Descriptions in Language Understanded of the People. Harper & Brothers, New York, NY. Google Books link

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