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How ‘human’ are birds compared to, say, dogs?

Bird_PersonsOne possible way of answering such a question might be to examine what kind of names people tend to give to them. Substantial groundwork was laid out in ‘La pensée sauvage’ written in 1962 by the eminent French anthropologist and ethnologist (the late) Claude Lévi-Strauss. The book outlined his discoveries regarding subtle differences in the names given to birds, dogs, cows and racehorses etc. Dogs, he found, might have names like Fido or Sultan, whereas birds can be called Claude or Margot. Some have interpreted his findings to mean that that birds are more likely to be given ‘human-like’ names than are dogs or other pets, and so by extrapolation they might even be considered to be ‘more human’. But, 45 years later, this concept has been challenged by by professor Ernest L. Abel Ph.D. (of the Obstetrics/Gynecology dept. at the School of Medicine, Wayne state
University, Detroit, US) who explains, in a 2007 paper for the journal Names: A Journal of Onomastics, (Volume 55, Number 4, pp. 349-353) ‘Birds are not More Human than Dogs: Evidence From Naming’.

“This study tested Levi-Strauss’s hypothesis that birds are more likely to be given human names than are dogs or other pets. The hypothesis was not supported. Instead, dogs (and cats) are much more likely to be given human names. The results were interpreted in terms of the relationships people feel with different kinds of pets. Pets housed outside the home are least likely to be given human names. Inside the house, pets kept in cages are less likely to be given human names than are pets allowed to roam freely within the home.”

The next year, professor Abel went on to further-refine understanding of bird-naming protocols with a paper for the journal Psychological Reports (Volume 102, Issue , pp. 271-272.) in which he explains how – PARROTS ARE “MORE HUMAN” THAN CHICKENS.

“Analysis of an Internet database of pets’ names showed owners were more likely to give anthropomorphic names to pets living within homes than those living outside.”

For more examples of professor Abel’s work, see these previous Improbable articles :

•’Human left-sided cradling preferences for dogs’

•’Athletes, Doctors, and Lawyers with First Names Beginning with ‘D’ Die Sooner’  and

•’A Marihuana Dictionary’

NOTE: For reasons of space we can’t list all the professor’s papers  – such as :

• Sopranos but not tenors live longer.

• Mortality salience of birthdays on day of death in the Major Leagues.

• Football increases the risk for Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

• Heaping in anniversary reaction studies: a cautionary note

• Use of electric blankets and association with prevalence of endometrial cancer

• Birth month and suicide among major league baseball players.

• An improved method for predicting which heavy drinkers become intoxicated.

etc etc etc

The image above is from ‘Métamorphoses du jour’ by Grandville, as cited by Lévi-Strauss

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