Friday, May 28, 2010

One Bird, Two Names, Three Continents

Hobart, Tasmania

The heart of this town has always been its spectacular harbour- one of the southern hemisphere’s most important and a landing site where English convicts found themselves in the 19th century. But up a block or two from where Hobart stares out to the world is a small city square that gives travelers another chance to see worldwide connection to this place.

Like central squares, piazzas and plazas the world over, at the center of this prized real estate rises a statue. Here, our figure is Sir John Franklin. He presided over Van Diemen's Land as the lieutenant-governor from 1837-1843 at a time before the island shed it’s decisively sounding Dutch name (Van Diemen’s Land) in favor of Tasmania (which just so happens to honour Abel Tasman- a Dutchman).

Franklin’s tenure here was nothing short of embarrassing and it took off a bit of the shine from the heroism that he achieved decades earlier while exploring parts of northern Canada. On two overland journeys seeking the Northwest Passage, Franklin charted many rivers and made it all the way to the Arctic Ocean. The fact that the majority of the men in his party either starved or froze to death did not factor into the knightship he received upon return to England- nor would it stop something else to be named in his honour. A gull.

The Franklin’s Gull is a fine little inland bird that the expedition in the North no doubt came across many times. John Franklin, as a significant explorer in Northern Canada, is justly tied to the bird. But there’s more to an animal name than simply it English version- and the Franklin’s Gull has a doozy of a Latin name: Larus pipixcan.

No matter how Victorian your tongue, there is no making sense of this one, as its origins takes us onto a most foreign destination. Pipixcan is a Latinized version a Spanishized understanding of an Aztec word- meaning Mexico. And while the process of getting the name is confusing, the name itself is spot on.

This bird is found on any winter trip to the beaches of central or South America. For instance, you will not be able to miss the tens of thousands of Franklin’s Gulls on the coastal areas of Callao, the port of Lima, Peru. Here it is the most abundant living thing on the landscape. Franklin’s Gull (Larus pipixcan) honouring both an explorer-turned-governor and its winter home, stitches the world together not only with its wings, but with its name.

No comments:

Post a Comment