What’s In a Name?

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Growing up I was frequently called by the wrong name. A much-loved auntie would go through a list of all her nieces’ names until she homed in on mine. So, I learned to respond to Nanamybethbeckiabby at quite a young age. Also, I was frequently called Amy as that was my Nana’s name and I took to responding without a thought. Once I had my own kids, we would be out studying the Pepperidge Farm assortment in the cookie aisle at our local grocery store when one of my parents’ friends would appear and call me Amy and then continue with her narrative. My kids looked at me kind of strange, but we all went along with it. No big deal.

Photo by Joan Heffernan
Baltimore Oriole

But somehow when the tables were turned, it seemed like more of a big deal. I have participated in misnomers and am not proud of them. One in particular happened on a sunny summer evening back in my college days. I had a date with some boy, and I was waiting at home hoping he could follow the directions to my house which were scribbled on a napkin like we used to do. He parked in our driveway and came in to run the gauntlet with my folks, a few of my brothers and even my favorite auntie who was there nursing her rum and tonic. I went around the room introducing Chuck to the cast of characters, and when I finished he turned to me and said,” By the way, my name is Steve, but if you want me to get Chuck, I think he is waiting in the car”. My dad nearly spit out his Canadian Club, and I turned scarlet and pretty soon was dripping with sweat. Not a great combo for a first date. I admired his sense of humor, but the wind was out of our sails, and we made an early night of it.

Humans aren’t the only ones with confusion regarding names. In the bird world, there have been some issues with names, and name changes seem to abound these days. Wearing his trademark black and orange plumage, one of our beloved birds, the Baltimore oriole got its name from Lord Baltimore, founder of the State of Maryland. However, over the years the Baltimore oriole was known to succumb to some less than puritanical sexual practices with other species of orioles, most notably the Bulluck’s oriole. Thus the American Ornithological Society renamed the two species of orioles as the Northern oriole and lumped the species together. We birders had to mark up our field guides with the changes and erase the name that had slid off our tongues for all those years. But decades later, it was determined that the dalliances weren’t so bad and that both species of orioles could get their original names back.

So, this time of year keep your eyes toward the treetops for this lovely black and orange visitor. He is a migratory bird who spends the winters in Central America and returns to our area to mate and raise a brood. They are insect eaters and also consume fruit. The female weaves a sac- like nest attached to one of the high branches of a tree. It takes her almost a week to finish this intricate work before she lays between 3 to 7 eggs. After a couple of weeks of being fed around the clock, the young orioles are ready to take flight. The youngsters’ coloration is more subdued initially, with a lot of drab brown as they will need to grow into the flamboyant orange and black reminiscent of Lord Baltimore’s coat of arms. And if historical figures from the 1600 hundreds do not excite you, maybe you can conjure the image of the infamous tracker from the Butch Cassidy movie, Lord Baltimore. But the real prize isn’t Lord Baltimore from the history books or the movies, but rather the black and orange songbird who posts up high in treetops in the warm months. Seek him out; you won’t regret it.

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