Every once in a while the question “Canada goose or Canadian goose?” is used as yet another pedantic shibboleth, and I am pleased to find a birding page by Lisa Shea that addresses the issue with good sense and as scientific an attitude as any linguist could ask:

The vast majority of English speaking people call the goose that is large and has a black head—Branta canadensis—a Canadian Goose. However, its original name was a CANADA Goose.
Remember, the official name for any bird is its Latin name. So the “real” name for this creature is Branta canadensis. That’s because the bird probably has 200 different names in 200 different languages, based on its colors, its sounds, its habitat or many other reasons. Birds get named after people, after habits, after all sorts of things. The Latin name is the same around the world for that bird.
So it’s true that at one point in time the Branta canadensis was called a Canada Goose, because it was often seen flying towards Canada and living there. You could now just as easily call it a North American Goose since it is found all over North America and lives just about anywhere. It has adapted to live all across the US and into Mexico too.
So over the years, the name has changed to be Canadian Goose in English. Just like people in the 1600s used to call pumpkins “Pompions” and call vegetables “potherbs”, we have changed what we typically call the Branta canadensis to Canadian Goose.

In Canada, by the way, francophones call it bernache du Canada. (Via a typically thorough and well-informed comment by Dan Hartung.)


  1. Thanks for your comment on Ball Four-actually I had never really doubted that Bouton had written the book, but I’ve heard the allegation that he hadn’t so often that I began to wonder.
    You’ll notice I have Language Hat in my links (under Language/Literature) and I have a couple entries of yours linked in my Jan. 4 post. (Of course I’m not looking for a reciporical {sic} link as mine isn’t a language site but I wanted to mention the links!)

  2. The species was introduced long ago to Great Britain (and other parts of mainland Europe) and is very well established. But in this minority dialect of English it is a Canada goose, and is so named in all my many and various bird books. I’ve never seen or heard of it referred to as a Canadian goose.

  3. Cryptic Ned says:

    I don’t know if the opinion of people who are actually birdwatchers and ornithologists matters for this discussion, but none of them/us call it a “Canadian goose” either.
    At least in North America, the names of vertebrates are standardized by species. If you called the Canada goose the Black-Necked Goose or something, people wouldn’t know what you meant outside your dialect.

  4. I don’t know if the opinion of people who are actually birdwatchers and ornithologists matters for this discussion
    Sure it does. This may be one of those situations where specialists use one term and the general public another. Or Lisa Shea may be wrong about majority use; I certainly wouldn’t know, not having much occasion to talk about the species. (When I see geese flying overhead, I just say “Geese!”)

  5. I have never in my life heard Canadian goose; since I am, in terms of actual lexical items, a prescriptivist at heart, I think it sounds wrong. (I think Canadian geese, as a plural, is less wrong sounding.)
    I would likely have thought it was a different (but related or similar-looking) species of goose. For what it’s worth.
    I suspect that different areas have different majority usages.

  6. Seems like an American (as in US) wrote the article. Here in Anglophone Canada, it’s Canada Goose. Don’t know if they call it that in Newfoundland, but the rest of the Maritimes and all the way across to the Pacific, I’ve only ever heard the one. When I lived in Utah, though, I did hear Canadian Geese used as a term once or twice.

  7. I live in the US, and I’ve never heard them called anything but Canada Geese. And that goes for newspaper articles and, I think, radio shows, as well as talking to birders. Just another data point. I think I would have noticed “Canadian Geese” because it just sounds weird to me.

  8. I don’t think I’ve heard “Canadian Goose” either, though the birds are regulars here in Oregon, and we do commonly talk about “Canada Geese.” We’re not birdwatchers particularly, & certainly not ornithologists. I don’t think we’d really know one species of Goose from another; we’d call any goose that wasn’t in a barnyard a “Canada Goose.”

  9. FWIW, another Canadian Person writing in to give the thumbs-up to Canada Goose. I would correct, and possibly scoff at anyone who called it otherwise (except for the Latin).

  10. I’ve only ever heard them called Canada Goose (or Geese)…except when they crap on you whilst flying overhead.

  11. One more Canuck in the mix, to add my voice. Fuck “Canadian Goose”, who uses that?

  12. Here is the answer to another important question:
    Just what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

  13. Great White Goose!

  14. “Great White Goose!” Do you mean Snowgeese? (Chen caerulescens)

  15. Great White Northern Goose!

  16. I’m ‘challenging’ you on that one.
    There’s a Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons).*
    *’Birds of North America’ K. Kaufman
    ………there may be a connection with language there somewhere.

  17. I’m bothered enough by the consensus for “Canada goose” in this thread that I’ve e-mailed Lisa Shea to ask what she bases her statement about the “vast majority” saying “Canadian” on, but I haven’t heard back so far.

  18. To break the consensus, this DC/Virginian says “Canadian Goose” only and ever.

  19. Aha! The wall of conspiracy cracks!

  20. Please excuse PF’s quick departure, he had to take his Great Danish for a walk.

  21. Another data point: When I have seen the Branta canadensis (assuming that is what they are) bringing traffic to a halt so they may leisurely cross the roads that wind through the Boston fens (you know, LH, the ones that are next to that park), everyone around me has always called them Canada geese, perhaps with an expletive incorporated if they’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

  22. Less than three weeks ago, in a park in Birmingham, England, I was surrounded by native Brits (perhaps five adults, from Dover, Brum and Bradford) who spontaneously called the birds “Canadian Geese” – I didn’t reply that the proper term was “Canada Geese” but was very surprised that the birds were there at all.

  23. Surprised at Canada Geese in Birmingham!
    They are a well known pest in city parks in parts of England, particularly because they make a horrible mess of the grass eith their grazing and shitting.
    Here in SE Scotland I’ve only heard of Canada Geese

  24. Okay..I came upon a post in for a review of the book ‘Lab 257’ who stated:
    “…he repeatedly referred to the presence of and migratory habits of “Canadian geese”. Mr. Carroll there are no such animals. Canada geese are named after the Native American Canada tribe. These birds are not named after the country of Canada and cannot correctly be referred to as “a Canadian Air Force”. You would think that a dedicated investigative reporter obsessed with accuracy and getting things right, who claims to have interviewed many birders, would have been informed that Canada geese and not “Canadian geese” fly the skies of Plum Island. What other major details in the story are as eggregiously slipshod? It made me wonder. Who edited this book?”
    The review written prior to that had stated, “…the Canadian geese inaccuracy is pretty disturbing. Didn’t this guy talk to any real biologists/birders?”
    Okay..I got a little heated over these moronic statements. Gee is moronic even a word? Well this book was written about an area on Long Island. Actually my father worked at the place the book was about. He always referred to the birds as “Canadian Geese.” So did his parents and entire family who were also members of the Audubon Society. But why stop there?
    I just spoke to the following individuals:
    A customer in Philly (that’s Philadelphia for the mentally challenged reading this post).
    A person living in Prague called it a Goose from North America.
    The responses recieved from the following sources were all the same:
    Tucson Audubon Society
    Wild Bird Store(Canada Division)
    Wild Bird Store (Tucson)
    AZ Game & Fish(Tucson)-not geniuses to begin with
    Wild Birds Unlimited (Tucson)
    University of Arizona Dept. of Ecol. & Evol. Bio.
    International Wildlife Museum (Tucson)
    (…….not too mention online searches!)
    1.Canadian Geese
    2.Canada Goose
    4.Branta canadensis
    Furthermore, it was mentioned by half of the respondents and myself that it would be
    improper/sound strange to say “Canada Geese” based on the phrases:
    “Canada Hockey Team” vs. “Canadian Hockey Team”.
    While they are both correct..gramatically speaking, one does sound more appropriate.
    When questioned about the usage of “Canada Goose”, the results were split. Of course either name would be correct, though half would have choosen the term “Canada Goose” while the remaining would simply use the word “Goose”.
    I have found no evidence of a Native American Indian Tribe (not to mention my Native American neighbors have not either. The one post where I saw that the Canada(ian) Goose was named after a person seemed to be based on his opinion only.
    Unfortunately I had other things to do then waste my time on this…but I just happened to stumble on this board and this reponse was created for the idiot on
    Lastly, since the book was about a town on Long Island, the author is correct in using the terminology used by the people living in that area. To use the lingo not common for that area would make the author seem more distant from his research. If it was common to call the geese a swan..then he should use that terminology with a footnote.
    The first reviewer had an excuse..he was from N.J. We don’t expect much from them to begin with. Although while traveling in Pa. once, I did come upon a family at a general store (who used a TORO for transportation), and asked them for directions on how to get back on the main highway just past the chain link fence behind the store. Their response? “We never did travel on that road before.” {I guess the TORO just ain’t fast enuff for that there road.} Apparently NY’ers either have the monopoly on being flawless with their opinions while everyone else who is blessed to be in their presence is drowning in a sea of unconscience ignorance.
    Lastlee…langgwije iz usd 2 transfur thawts. If I saa sum’im n u ken unnnerstan it..I did mi job. If u ax mee sum’im n I dont unnerstan whatya saa’un..then that iz uh delemma.

  25. “Furthermore, it was mentioned by half of the respondents and myself that it would be
    improper/sound strange to say “Canada Geese” based on the phrases:
    “Canada Hockey Team” vs. “Canadian Hockey Team”.
    While they are both correct..gramatically speaking, one does sound more appropriate.”
    Well, it’s incorrect to compare Canada Geese with the Canadian Hockey Team. The name of the Goose IS the “Canada Goose” and not just a Goose from Canada – the plural of Goose is Geese, so more than one Canada Goose are Canada Geese – you generally never pluralize (or change the tense of) the describing adjectives when they are all part of the noun itself.
    So, it ‘should’ be Canada Geese regardless of what sounds better.

  26. Acey Tharrington says:

    I’ve said Canadian geese. I still say it. I was told that the correct way to say this is Canada goose. If that is right, a person from a country, such as Iran, would be called an Iran person instead of Iranian.

  27. Acey Tharrington says:

    All I know is, the white ones bite.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Decades spent in English Canada, I say Canada goose/geese like everyone I know. “Canadian geese” would refer to the several species of geese spending at least part of their time in Canada, including the farm-raised ones.

    In French the official name is (la) bernache du Canada as opposed to similar species in other continents, but in everyday conversation simply (la) bernache.

  29. Did you know that there’s a Canadian River in Kansas? It goes nowhere near Canada. It’s a tributary of the Arkansas River. Also, along much of its length the Arkansas River is pronounced to rhyme with Kansas rather than like the state of Arkansas.

  30. Actually, the Canadian River doesn’t run through Kansas–it runs even further south. It rises in New Mexico, flows through the Texas Panhandle, and joins the Arkansas River (yes, Ar ‘kan sas, not ‘Ar kan saw) River in Oklahoma.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Canada goose, Iran person

    The Canada goose is one species of goose, found notably in Canada but also in other places. Canadian geese are all the geese in Canada, not just the ones called Canada geese. I don’t think there is more than one species of humans in Iran.

  32. It’s the ArKANsas River in Oklahoma and Kansas, but the ARKansaw in Arkansaw, er, Arkansas. Colorado usage is divided. I don’t know what Mexicans call it: it was part of the international border from 1821 to 1848.

  33. “It’s the ArKANsas River in Oklahoma and Kansas, but the ARKansaw in Arkansaw, er, Arkansas.”

    I’m a person of Okie heritage. ArKANsas.

  34. Michelle says:

    I live in southern Oregon and this very topic was a point of discussion a couple of nights ago. I was enjoying a beautiful evening on the river with my boyfriend and some friends when someone pointed and exclaimed “Oh! Look at the Canadian geese!” That made me wonder if the phrase should’ve been “Oh! Look at the Canada geese!” Since the geese aren’t true “residents” of Canada, I’m leaning toward the term Canada geese.

    I hear people in Oregon refer to “Canadian geese” frequently.

  35. JW Calloway says:

    Hogwash! Come out with all the reasons you can dream up to call them Canadian geese and they are all wrong.

    Canadians are people that are considered to be residents of Canada. Geese are residents, but not people. Some have said here that the term Canada geese is outdated and they are properly called Canadian geese. That is rubbish and incorrect.

    It doesn’t matter if they are in Canada or not they are Canada geese. How could you in any way call the species that may happen to be in the United States, or elsewhere “Canadians”?

  36. Here in New Jersey, most people I come across say Canadian geese.

  37. I’ll just add that in the nearly 30 years I spent in Pennsylvania, I never once heard “Canada Goose”. It was always “Canadian.”

    I’ll take common usage over pedantry anytime.

  38. I’ll take common usage over pedantry anytime.

    You and me both!

  39. marie-lucie says:

    I’ll take common usage over pedantry anytime.

    A sound attitude, but “common usage” often varies according to country or region, as demonstrated in this very thread. It’s an “I say tomato, you say tomahto” situation.

  40. I have lived in places where “Canada Goose” was the norm, and other places where it was “Canadian Goose.” I’m not sure I can remember which regions used which names though.

  41. Bathrobe says:

    J W Calloway’s comment is so misguided as to be laughable. What would he have to say about German cockroaches?

  42. I am absolutely amazed that people (in the U.S. no less!) have never heard these birds called Canadian geese! I have never heard it any other way, my whole life! When I first saw Canada geese written somewhere, I thought it was yet another example of our language being ruined!

  43. Just as I’ve learned to accept that there are people who have never heard any term but Welsh rarebit, and if they heard Welsh rabbit would think it absurd.

  44. To me, a frequent observer and appreciator of that bird, Canadian goose sounds as wrong as saying Southern Africa when referring to South Africa. A Canadian goose is to me any goose which happens to be Canadian.

    If it ever comes to needing a neutral compromise, I propose “Mainland nēnē”.

    P.S. Lynn, what part of the U.S. do you live in? Here on the west coast I never heard anything but “Canada goose”.

  45. From my “neck of the woods”, western Washington and western Oregon, I grew up hearing and saying Canadian goose/geese … Just today, discovered the official name is Canada goose ( while researching geese I saw at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

  46. -A Canadian goose is to me any goose which happens to be Canadian.

    Isn’t it rather any Canadian who happens to be a goose?

  47. David Marjanović says:

    No, that would be a Goose-Canadian or Anserine-Canadian – compare African-American.

  48. If a flock of Canada geese lands in the U.S. are they “Canadian”? I’ve never been able to check their passports. It’s Canada goose. However “Canadian goose” is used frequently enough that it is somewhat acceptable, even if incorrect.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    In Canada we say “Canada goose”. “Canadian goose” is American. In any case they are free to travel over the border, without government-issued ID cards or travel documents.

  50. canadian goose would indeed mean ‘goose that is canadian’ when goose means ‘silly person’.

  51. Or a very polite pinch to the butt.

  52. Perhaps we should ask the geese what they prefer?

  53. My wife add, I think they prefer cornfields.

  54. I agree with your wife.

    Just as a point of interest, the Recent Comments at this moment include only pre-Word Press ALL CAPS post titles:

    Carroll on CANADIAN GEESE.
    languagehat on NOV SHMOZ KA POP.
    Carroll on CANADIAN GEESE.
    John Cowan on AITCH OR HAITCH?
    Marja Erwin on AITCH OR HAITCH?
    Trond Engen on NOV SHMOZ KA POP.
    Trond Engen on NOV SHMOZ KA POP.
    John Cowan on NOV SHMOZ KA POP.
    languagehat on NOV SHMOZ KA POP.

  55. For some reason, my comment attempts on “AITCH OR HAITCH” and “BORIO-BOOLA-GHA” disappeared. Is it something about the upper-cased-ness, or pre-wordpressedness, or the age of the post?

    So, this is an experiment.

  56. Damn, I hate that. Feel free to e-mail me your comments and I’ll post them for you.

  57. Lars (the original one) says:

    It has nothing to do with Owlmirror’s problem — though who knows with computers — but the current page template has a “text-transformation: uppercase” style applied to the title which is stored in title case in the database (or with whatever case our noble host uses when entering it), which is why it can appear as entered in other contexts; presumably the pre-Wordpress software just converted the title to upper case before storing it, which is why the old posts look like that.

  58. I believe that in the Movable Type and Blogger versions Steve deliberately uppercased all titles by hand.

  59. Lars (the original one) says:

    Yes, sometimes you have to help the software a bit.

  60. I believe that in the Movable Type and Blogger versions Steve deliberately uppercased all titles by hand.

    Correct, though I no longer have any idea why.

  61. Carl Fritz says:

    I am surprised to see that a lot of people commenting from the U.S. have only heard these geese called Canada geese. I’ve lived in Iowa, Michigan, Virginia and New Jersey and I don’t think that I have ever heard the term Canada goose (or geese if more than one) until today. I’ve only heard them called Canadian geese. I guess we all have different experiences.

  62. TVirginian here (Hampton Roads/Tidewater area) : Canadian Goose.

    Don’t know why, just learned it that way and always used it. I’ve never heard people here use “Canada Goose.” (Not to say no one says “Canada Goose” here, only that I’ve not heard that term in my 30+ years of living here).

    Beautiful birds, I enjoy watching and hearing them fly over. Not so much on the poop though.. 🙂

  63. Sorry, what is a TVirginian? (If that was a typo, sorry!)

  64. I assumed it was a typo, but now I’m curious. (I’m also curious about why after a nine-year gap people started coming by in 2014 to share their usage; there’s been a steady drip ever since.)

  65. It’s not all that surprising: comments were closed sometime after the original post until the conversion to WordPress, remember. When was that now? 2013? How quickly we forget.

  66. Don John Rosinski says:

    I think many folks call the Canadian Geese often when speaking in the plural. Not that it makes it right but I often hear some gunners call them Canadian and I don’t think they ever gave it a thought. The proper Name is Canada Goose, at least as far as biologically named.

  67. ‘Canada Goose’ on YouTube/the internet is stupid jackets but also the animal
    ‘Canadian Goose’ on YouTube/the internet is the animal

    I don’t want half my searches to be a fashion company, I’d rather type the latter and get what I want.

Speak Your Mind