Peter Pearson's picture

Whats in a name

I know I'm getting old and past my sell by date, but why has our friend the good old redbreasted symbol of Christmas, suddenly become the 'European Robin'. Robin it always was and shouldn't be changed for change sake.



claude_crabbe's picture

What's it name?

I think Malyon has a point here. Ask most people in the UK what the red-breasted bird is on their Christmas card is and I am sure they will quite clearly tell you (without using the word European).

I bet there is a committee in the scientific community somewhere behind this although interestingly the RSPB seem to refer to this bird simply as the Robin. As this birds range also extends outside of Europe it could be argued that the geographical name isn't accurate in any case!

In the 1960s, in a vote publicised by The Times newspaper, the Robin was adopted as the unofficial national bird of the UK.

I back Malyon on this and vote we should keep the Robin as the Robin.

Below is a list of what other languages call the robin:

Arabic: أبو الحناء, أبو الحنّاء, أم الحنا
Asturian: Raitán
Azerbaijani: Şəfəq bülbülü
Belarusian: zaranka, заранка, Малінаўка
Bulgarian: červenogr"dka, Червеногръдка, Червеногушка
Breton: Ar boc’hruzig rujodenn, Ar boc'hruzig rujodenn, boc'hruzig, Brennid-ruz, Bruched-ruz, Buruig, Draouennig-vras, Kofig-ruz, Pêrig kof-ruz, Pichig-ruz, Richodell, Rujodenn, Torig-ruz
Catalan: Pit-roig, Rupit
Catalan (Balears): Rupit
Czech: červenka, Cervenka obecná, Červenka obecná, èervenka obecná
Welsh: Brongoch, Bronrhuddyn, Bronruddyn, Coch-gam, robin goch
Danish: Rødhals
German: Kehlchen, Rotkehlchen
Greek: [Kοkkinοlaimis], kοkkinοlaimis, Κοκκινολαίμης
English: European Robin, Robin
Esperanto: ru^ggor^gulo, rubekolo, ruĝgorĝulo
Spanish: Petirro, Petirrojo, Petirrojo Europeo
Estonian: Punarind
Basque: Pit-roig , Txantxan, txantxangorri, Txantxangorria
Finnish: Punarinta
Faroese: bringureyði, Reyðbrystingur
French: Rougegorge, Rougegorge familier
Friulian: petarňs, scriç
Frisian: readboarstke
Irish: paporroibo, paporrubio, pisco, spideog, Spideóg
Gaelic: Am Brù-Dhearg, Broinn Dearg, Brù-Dhearg
Galician: Paporrubio, Pit-roig
Manx: Cleean Jiarg, Spiitag, spittag
Hebrew: אדום החזה, אדום חזה, אדום־חזה, אדום-חזה
Croatian: Crvendac, Crvendać, crvendrać, Čučka crvendać
Hungarian: Vörösbegy
Armenian: [Arshalusik ], Առշալուսիկ, Արժալուսիկ
Icelandic: Glóbrystingur
Italian: Pettirosso, Pettirosso comune, Pettirosso europeo
Japanese: Eoropean Robin, yoaroppakomadori, yo-roppakomadori, Youroppa-komadori
Japanese: ヨアロッパコマドリ, ヨーロッパコマドリ
Georgian: ბულწითელა
Kazakh: Тањшымшық
Korean: 꼬까울새
Cornish: Rudhak, rudhek
Latin: Erithacus rubecula
Ladino: pietcuecen
Lithuanian: liepsnele, liepsnelė
Latvian: Sarkankrūtītis, sarkanriklite, sarkanrīklīte
Macedonian: crvenoguška, црвеногушка
Maltese: pitirross
Dutch: Roodborst
Norwegian: Rødkjelk, Rødkjelke, Rødstrupe
Occitan: papach rós, papachrós
Polish: Plochacz halny, Płochacz halny, rudzik, Rudzik zwyczajny
Portuguese: pisco de peito riuvo, pisco de peito ruivo, Pisco-de-peito-riuvo, Pisco-de-peito-ruivo
Romansh: puppen cotschen, Puppencotschen
Romanian: gusa-rosie, guşă-roşie
Romany: loli-kolinaki, lolo-kolinako
Russian: zarjanka, Зарянка, Зарянка - Малиновка, Зарянка обыкновенная, Обыкновенная зарянка
Sardinian: Barbarrubia, brabarrùbia, brabarrůbia, Brinci, brinciottu, brinzis cannedda, chirisi, consizeri, criddichiu, ddoddi, fragavinu, furabainzu, Ghiru, giri, grisoi, groddittu, Iscalziruggiu, iscarjrrùbiu, iscarziruju, pettorriruju, pitturrarrùbiu, pitturrarrůbiu, scraxarrùbiu, scraxarrůbiu, tzicchi, vàrvisi
Scots: Broinn dearg, Bru dhearg, brù-dhearg
Northern Sami: guovssoloddi
Slovak: červienka, cervienka obycajná, Červienka obyčajná, slávik červienka, slávik červienka (červienka obyčajná)
Slovenian: tašcica, taščica
Albanian: gushëkuqi
Serbian: crvendac, crvendać, црвендаћ
Swedish: Rödhake
Turkmen: kızıgerdan
Turkish: Kızılgerdan, kyzylgerdan, Nar Bülbülü
Ukrainian: vil'šanka, вільшанка, Малинівка
Sorbian, Lower: sprjosk
Sorbian, Upper: ročk
Chinese: [Ou-ya qu], 欧亚歌鸲, 欧亚鸲

ophrys's picture


You've missed off the American for Robin!

Robin (Turdus migratorius)



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Mr East's picture


I guess it distinguishes it from the American Robin which occasionally appears in the UK.

MrG's picture


On a similar theme I recently queried the provenance of the term Hedge Accentor for the bird most people know as a Dunnock. I was assured that Hedge Accentor was the iSpot preferred name. So what is iSpot's source of preferred names? I would have have thought for birds in Britain that the BOU checklist would be the best - see for the latest list. (Yes, I know Dunnocks belong to the Accentor family.)

DavidHowdon's picture


I suspect someone will be along who knows better but I think iSpot uses a taxonmic database from the natural history museum. It will be international in scope so may well use the international English vernacular names for things.

But so long as the scientific name is correct it doesn't really matter.

David Howdon

MrG's picture

Scientific names

Scientific names won't mean much to many users of iSpot so I think it is better to use a single common name. Furthermore, vernacular names are more stable at present than scientific names, where continued research leads to regular changes. For example, how many people would recognise Chloris chloris as the latest name for a Greenfinch?

Ray Turner's picture

The international vernacular ...

... name for Prunella modularis is Dunnock. At least that is according to the International Ornithological Congress.
Gill and Write on behalf of IOC Birds of the World Recommended English Names Helm p190, checked against .xls master list available from

The caveat of course is the IOC is only one body, we would never get into the Olympics (a requirement for an inclusive sport is to have only one world governing body), and the IOC has a new list (currently in beta and not yet available for download) so who knows ....



Ray Turner's picture

Pun not intended :-)

Pun not intended :-)


RoyW's picture

English language and scientific names

"I know I'm getting old and past my sell by date, but why has our friend the good old redbreasted symbol of Christmas, suddenly become the 'European Robin'. Robin it always was and shouldn't be changed for change sake."
With the exception of species that have only recently been discovered, or which have only recently been given an English language name for other reasons, there is probably not a single organism that has always had the same English name.

Changing the name to European Robin is simply an attempt to standardise the English name so that all English speakers know which species is being referred to, without the need for the scientific name to be included. Personally I have no doubt at all that the name "European Robin" (which is appropriate because the species distribution only barely extends outside of Europe - and when it does it is generally only as a summer/winter migrant) will increasingly become accepted as the 'norm' in our increasingly global society.
The European Robin was known as the "redbreast" in the past, apparently becoming known as "Robin Redbreast" because a fifteenth century tendency to give animals and birds human names ("Jenny Wren" presumably has similar origins), and eventually shortened to just "Robin".
If the name "Robin" had remained in use for just one species of bird there wouldn't be any problem, but there was a tendency for explorers/colonists from Europe to name similar looking species after the birds that they are familiar with (there are numerous species around the world that are known as 'robins', often species that are unrelated to the European Robin.

If you bear in mind that an American with an interest in their local birds, but with little global knowledge, might be thinking "Why should I need to call a Robin an American Robin?" you get a better idea of the potential confusion (use google to search for "Robin" and you will definitely get a lot of 'hits' that refer to American Robins (which may only use the name "Robin"), and probably also a few hits for other 'robins'.

The tendency at the moment is to try and standardise English species names for global use, and we tend to forget that in the past the species names that we now take for granted in the UK would have been different in different regions (eg. there was a wide variety of local names for (Grey) Heron, Including Harnser, Moll Hern, Hegrie, and Frank (based on the call). It is relatively easy to imagine people saying "why should I call them herons when I have always known them as Harnsers?" (and then "What's wrong with just calling them Herons when 'Grey' was added).

ophrys's picture

Dumbing down

If I am birding abroad, and can't remember the French for Robin, say, I just use Erithacus rubecula and immediately we all know what we are talking about. If I am birding in North America, I just learn their names. Why this obsession with standardised English names? Who cares if the Americans and we call different birds a Robin? That never stumped me; even at the age of 5 I knew the difference (ask my infant school teacher). I just don't see why we assume it causes a problem. Is the assumption that we have suddenly become too stupid to cope with two names being used for different things? Will the English language have to be reformed so that no word can have more than one meaning, in case we stupid folk cannot cope? Will a bear have to be known as a Large Furry Roarer, lest we confuse it with the verb to carry?

It's the curse of the entomological world, too, at the moment, with a drive to give everything a standardised common name. As if that is going to make a blind bit of difference to how many people want to go out and study flies or whatever! So, we have ridiculous names like the Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), the Broad Centurion (Chloromyia formosa) and so on. People who are interested in these creatures are more than happy to use scientific names. Making up some ridiculous English name is only being done for Joe Public, presumably, under the misguided belief that the average person is not as intelligent as some and won't cope with all those strange letters. In my experience, people like to learn and use scientific names. I teach kids who love to learn them and enjoy using them.

I cannot see any genuine reason for standardised English names for birds. We already have the standardised name - the scientific name. Let's stop pretending we are all stupid and realise that scientific names are not difficult to remember. Then, we can forget worrying about standardised English and just get on with things.



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Ray Turner's picture

Hear hear

Hear hear


RoyW's picture

Um... OK... ;o)

While I agree with some of what you have said in the above post, I can't agree with all of it.

Unfortunately having the same English language name referring to two very different species can, and does, sometimes cause confusion. Scientific names can obviously be used to differentiate between these species, and are used as standard in field guides and in scientific publications.
It is fine for someone who is obviously already serious about the study and recording of wildlife to say that we can just use scientific names, and that English names are "ridiculous" and won't encourage others to go out and study the groups that have been given English names, but (unfortunately??) it's not true. Everyone who is serious about the study of a particular group of organisms will invariably eventually learn to use the scientific names, but if you can honestly say that the average person will find scientific names easy to pick up at first, then you are living on a different planet from me!

My interest in wildlife started with birds, and I then began to take more and more interest in the other wildlife around me. A while after I began to take an interest in Odonata I was in the New Forest with some birdwatching friends, where we bumped into a couple of people looking at the dragonflies. Although commonly used English language names already existed for the the dragonflies and damselflies found in the UK, when asked about what they had seen these people would only give the scientific names - this did nothing at all to interest my friends (who considered them to be being deliberately stuck up and elitist), and I could only just about manage to follow what they had seen. The English language names would have readily told me what they had seen, and would also have given my birding friends a reasonable idea, even though they may not have known how to identify the species.

The keenest of people will tend to take an interest in entomology (or other taxa) even if the only name that they can be given for a species is a (sometimes long and difficult to spell/pronounce) scientific one, but for many people the original draw will often be from noticing something and being told that it is an **insert name here** - if they are given a name that can be readily remembered (even if it is ridiculous).

Ridiculous English names may well only be made up for "Joe Public", but even if it can be considered "dumbing down" I really don't see how it can be a bad thing. Scientific names will continue to be used by those who already have an interest (though hopefully if they realise they are talking to someone who doesn't understand them they will be prepared to give an English language name as well - if there is one), and people who don't like scientific names (either because they are "dumb", or for any other reason) are also able to take part in some recording and study if an alternative name is available.
There are a lot of people who record birds, butterflies, dragonflies etc, or who point out different mammals and trees to their children (potentially helping to spark an interest). What percentage of these people would you expect to be able to give the scientific names for the species that they are recording/pointing out?

As for standardising English names, I agree that it isn't really necessary - but then again it really isn't a problem either.
The people (on both sides of the Atlantic) who like to use the name "Robin" without European or American in front of it will continue to do so, but if the names "European Robin" and "American Robin" start to be used more in print then they are likely to gradually become more commonly used as standard. No one needs to worry about it, no one needs to use a name that they don't want to, so where is the problem?

I don't personally have a problem with the same name being used for different bird species in different areas, and I also don't have a problem with different names being used for the same species, even if two different names are in common usage in one place (eg. great Skua and Bonxie in the UK) - but I do understand how it can sometimes be difficult for people who are new to birdwatching.