24 JUNE 1893, Page 32


[To THE EDITOR OF TR& "SPECTATOR."] SIR,—The number of birds—" dicky-birds," shall we call them ?—which are familiarly known by Christian names is probably much larger than your correspondent supposes. May I add a few to last week's list P Besides Tom Tit, there is "Tom Noddy," the puffin (" Tammie Norris " or " Tammas " in Scotland); "Tom Harry," the skua ; and "Tom Pudding," the dabelaick. The "Jacks," as we should suppose, are commoner still,—Jack Daw, Jack Sparrow, Jack Snipe, Jack Nicker (the goldfinch), Jack Curlew (the whimbrel), and Jack Saw (the goosander). The town-sparrow is surely " Jack " rather than "Dick," at least when he is given his name in full ; although his somewhat distant cousin, the hedge-sparrow, is certainly "Dick Durnock." "Willie" is the guillemot. "Billy Biter" (the titmouse) is one who bites Billy, I suppose, and cannot be fairly pressed into the list.

It is very interesting to know that the cock-bird is always the "tom-bird" in Oxfordshire ; but in none of these cases is there the least probability that the question of sex is involved in the name. The hen-tit is quite as properly called "Tom," as the hen-daw is called "Jack," or the cock-parrot "Poll." On the other hand, Jenny Wren is always a lady with those in the secret of "joly Robyn," and the modern spirit of scientific inquiry will not easily dispel the lore acquired by the students of " unnatural " history. "Kitty Wren" may possibly be only a corruption of "catty wren,"—a name common enough in some parts of the country. " 3/Eag," "Madge," or " Margot " (Margaret), the magpie, is of course either the cock or the hen, and so perhaps for the other "Madge,"—the owl. (" I'll sit in a barn with Madge-howlett," says Ben Jonson, "and catch mice first.") With beasts, however, the Christian name seems usually given, originally at least, to distinguish the sexes. We speak of a tom-cat, as we do of a dog-fox, a tib-cat as a doe-rabbit. There is a billy-goat, and a nanny-goat, a jack-ass and a jenny- ass ; and every one has read of Cowper's "wild jack-hare. Is there a Christian name for the "doe," one wonders, to match with " Jack "P " Wat " is a friendly name for either. Shake- speare's "poor Wat," who- " Far off upon the hill, Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear."

" Jackanape," too, is used indifferently for the male or female monkey, and in many parts "Jack Ass" will stand for a " Neddy " of either sex. The feminine names do not seem to stand the wear of time so well as the masculine.

When we come to fishes, " Jack " is still the favourite ; the pike is a "Jack," and "Jack Spratt " is a fish in the market, as well as the hero of the nursery-rhyme. John Dory and Tom Cod are, I fear, not genuine instances, but corruptions out of foreign tongues. Amongst insects, is there not some "Jack "-name for Daddy Longlegs, or the glow-worm ? In the choice of names, alliteration, or at least a general feeling for assonance, generally plays an important part ; and the names from which the selection is made, are the everyday names of our ancestors. It is Robin Redbreast, Tom Tit, and Dick Durnock. The daw, like many another bird, gave a hint to the name-makers by his cry; but how came " Wat " for the hare and " Madge" for the owl? And why are all donkeys. called " Neddy " P—I am, Sir, &c.,