CANADIAN GEESE.

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.)

Comments

  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.
    D

  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 amazon.com 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!)
    THESE ARE THE RESULTS IF YOU CAN HANDLE THEM (AND THEY ARE ALL PRETTY MUCH THE SAME {AS ME}:
    1.Canadian Geese
    2.Canada Goose
    3.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 Amazon.com.
    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.
    R

  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.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_River

  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.

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