At the heart of the interplay between names and knowledge is the relative salience of different taxa. Hunn (1999) described four, semi-overlapping kinds of salience: phenotypic, perceptual, cultural, and ecological. While the first three are well documented, ecological salience remains largely hypothetical in the literature. In this paper, I test Hunn's concept of ecological salience by reference to 3186 recorded English folk-names of British birds. The numbers of names recorded across 57 species represented in this study range from two (Nightingale [Luscinia megarhynchos]) to 180 (Grey Heron [Ardea cinerea]). A significant positive correlation is demonstrated between the number of recorded folk-names for a species and a measure of ubiquity in the nineteenth century. Using original bird census data collected by the author for other purposes in the 1990s in farmland and woodland in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, I demonstrate an overall correlation across Linnaean species between the number of names, number of monolexic names, and three measures of specific relative abundance and distribution. The percentage of names for a species that are monolexic, which is an indicator of familiarity, also correlated with the relative abundance of species in farmland, but this relationship was driven entirely by species with little recorded folklore. For those taxa with documented significance to nineteenth century and earlier English folk culture, which tend to carry more names than predicted by ecological ubiquity alone, there was no relationship between the extent of monolexis and the relative abundance of a species. The study suggests that ecological salience was a significant driver in bird naming in pre-industrial English folk culture, that more frequently encountered species were more likely to develop an associated folklore, but that an effect of acquired cultural salience operated as a driver of overall specific salience, potentially masking the effects of ecological salience.
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Vol. 37 • No. 4