November 1, 2019 10:12 AM   Subscribe

“In a handbook,” he explains, “there has to be a single name, because it’s useful. But no name is more appropriate than another. Birds have different names depending on when they are seen, how old they are, where they are found. There is no correct name, only many names.” An anthropologist in the Faroe Islands: "what is at stake in practices of naming is a habit of paying attention to the environment, premised not on lexical expertise or ideas of knowledge but on a singular hedonism of taking pleasure in the thing named."

In Eirika’s neat, white kitchen overlooking the bay of Vágar, I learn what it is about a taboo that makes it worth remembering. “It’s something to do with knowing how to look, how to look with… respect? Love?” Eirika hesitates, searching for the right word. “That whale in the story,” she says, finally, “it’s not that a wrong word would send the whale away, it’s about looking at the whale in the wrong way. Not recognising it for what it is, thinking it’s a tree, not looking closely enough.” As I prepare to leave her flat, Eirika embraces me, repeats her regrets: “I wish I could remember what my mother knew, but one doesn’t think about these things, anymore.”
posted by Hypatia (4 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is related to a quest I haven't actively pursued yet, getting the AOU names of Caribbean endemic birds changed to the actual names used by people who live where the birds live. It is insane that a bunch of scientists can say a bird is officially the "imperial parrot" when people on the only island in the world where it lives call it the sisserou.
posted by snofoam at 3:43 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fascinating piece, thanks for posting. I like the idea of this contextual taxonomy as a means rather than an end, a way of experiencing beauty, for these ‘amateur’ birders.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:19 AM on November 2, 2019

As someone in the midst of gender transition, this idea of many names and understanding a being for how they are without names or labels is one of the greatest teachings. It would be revolutionary if people could learn this art and yet, from the article, ‘stones break before the tongue of man’.
posted by kokaku at 4:07 AM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ooooh, thanks for this. I both like birds a lot, and am obsessed with the Faroe Islands!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:47 PM on November 2, 2019

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