Last autumn, I had a research assistant who was really, really French, who would get fairly animated whenever the subject of Napoleon came up. At some point I was collecting data on Bonaparte’s Gull (Larus philedelphia), and she happened to look over my shoulder.
Her: “Ooh, is that bird named after Napoleon Bonaparte?!”
Me: “There’s no way that can be true…can it?”
An image of Napoleon looking very French, or something.
Turns out we were both right: Bonaparte’s Gull is named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. CLB was born in France, raised in Italy, married his cousin in Belgium, set off for the New World at the age of 19 (discovering a new bird along the way, Wilson’s Storm-petrel), traveled around the US studying birds, traveled around Europe talking about birds, got elected to the Roman Assembly, lead some Roman troops against his cousin Louis Napoleon, and at some point fathered 12 children.
(By the way, in case anyone reading this is from my hometown — Lake Bonaparte in Lewis Country, NY, is actually named after Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. He lived there after he got exiled from France. #uselessknowledge)
A Bonaparte’s Gull in breeding plumage. Photo by D Gordon E Robertson, via Wikipedia.
The species name, philadelphia, comes from the US city, Philadelphia. I presume because our friend CLB lived there when he first came to the US? Looking at the range map, I’m not entirely sure that Bonaparte’s Gulls can be found in Philadelphia, but if not, it’s close.
The OED has entries for “Philadelphia lawyer” (which apparently can either mean “a very able and intelligent lawyer” or “an unscrupulous lawyer”, so I’m not sure if this is a compliment or not), “Philadelphia chromosome” (particular translocation between chromosomes 9 and 22), and “Philadelphia cheesesteak” (a delicious sandwich). And as any American who paid attention in middle school history class knows, the name “Philadelphia” means “brotherly love”, from the Greek philos for “love” (cf “philosophy” “love of knowledge”) and adelphos “brother”. Philly was founded by Quakers, what can I say.
This is a Philly cheesesteak. If you eat meat, it is delicious.
We have covered the word gull (it’s Welsh! for “gull”), as well as the the genus name Larus (Greek: “gull”), whence family Laridae. I seem not to have said anything about Charadriiformes (shorebirds), but Charadrius (plovers) comes from the Greek χαράδρα charadra meaning “canyon”. Apparently there’s some yellowish nocturnal bird that lives in ravines, supposedly cures jaundice, and is mentioned in the Vulgate Bible by this name, and someone at some point decided it was actually a Ringed Plover. Go figure.
(As a professional ornithologist I feel obligated to point out that Ringed Plovers do not live in ravines/canyons/etc, don’t cure jaundice or otherwise protect you from the evil eye, aren’t particularly yellow, and are cathemeral rather than nocturnal.)