What’s in a Name?

One of my favorite stories about producing The Fascination of Nature begins with my being honored to have Dr. Richard C. Banks review the “I Am Asking for More!” chapter for me. Dr. Banks’s service on the AOU Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North American Birds is remarkably similar — in tenure, positions, and accomplishments — to Stone’s. He is retired from a long and very distinguished career as an ornithologist with the USGS. I knew that Dr. Banks was way too young to have known Stone, but I suspected that some of the older men from early in his career probably knew Stone and his colleagues, and that Dr. Banks might have some insights into those times that few others today would have. He proved me right in splendid fashion.

I had a quote from the Canadian ornithologist P.A. Taverner that I wanted to use in the book. I preferred a full first name instead of the simple initials that Taverner always went by, so I poked around on Google and found that his name was Paul A. Taverner. In went the “Paul A. Taverner” quote. After Dr. Banks reviewed the chapter, he wrote to me, “I do not think Taverner’s name was Paul. Where did you get that? He always went just by P.A. The story I have heard is that T. S. Palmer, when Secretary of the AOU, tried to get Taverner’s full name [doubtless for Palmer’s infamous annual members list] and Taverner refused. Palmer then threatened to list it as Percival Algernon. Taverner replied, ‘Guilty as charged.’ I have never seen ‘Paul.’” I went back to the Internet, and there it was, plain as day: Percy Algernon Taverner. Where in the world did I get “Paul”? And where in the world could you find anyone else who not only knows P.A. Taverner’s full name, but even has a great story related to it? Dr. Banks hit a grand slam.

TavernerPalmer

Percy (L) and Theodore

I did some more checking, and found that during Palmer’s tenure as secretary, Taverner does in fact show up in the annual AOU members lists as “Percy A. Taverner.” Now, wouldn’t you think that someone with the name “Theodore Sherman,” who hid behind the initials “T.S.” throughout his life, would have a little sympathy for a “Percival Algernon” and just leave him on the rolls as “P.A.” — as Taverner doubtless preferred?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>