Your questions, answered: What’s in a name?

What are we calling the eagles at our nests?
In Decorah, the eagles are Mom and DM2
At Decorah North, the eagles are Mr. North and DNF

Perhaps the number one question you’ve asked us this year touches on what we’re calling the eagles. Why aren’t we calling DM2 Dad, or Dad2, or Mr. Decorah, or anything else more name-like? Who came up with DNF – ugh, we hate that! Why not Mom and Dad, or Mr. and Mrs. North? Many of you miss the friendly, familiar names they used to have.
Let’s take a step back and look at how the eagles at both nests got those titles. When the Decorah Eagle cam went viral back in 2011, Bob Anderson wanted a short, easy title that would appropriately describe each adult without selecting names for them. We weren’t thinking about death, disappearance, or replacement, which means we weren’t thinking about name succession. Mom and Dad were absolutely perfect in the moment.
How about Mr. and Mrs. North? We came up with those two terms because we thought it would be too confusing to have another Mom and Dad, and even a Mom and Dad North could get confusing to people skimming posts, especially during times of worry and stress. Mr. and Mrs. North allowed us to retain an element or idea that was really, really important to people while differentiating between the Decorah and Decorah North nests in a quick and intuitive way.

And now we come to the sticking point.

After Dad Decorah disappeared last year, we didn’t want to use ‘Dad’ for the new male’s title. Since Dad wasn’t instantly replaced, it gave us some time to think about our options. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go with a title that included location and long count, which ruled out variations of Dad(n). We also wanted something that included the sex of each eagle. Why did we make this decision? We don’t know how long we’re going to be watching eagles here or how many mate switchovers we’ll see, and it is much easier to search for data and specific eagles when they have a consistent identity. Moving forward, eagle titles will include location (D for Decorah or DN for Decorah North), a letter for sex (M for male and F for female), and a succession number will make it easy to quickly identify critical traits in the eagles we are watching and documenting. It answers the most common questions we get: where ([D]ecorah or [D]ecorah [N]orth), who ([M]ale or [F]emale), and what (the [ ]first, [2]second, [3]third, or [n] eagle on any given site). These names are not as friendly or familiar as the original names, but they set us up for the long run a lot better. We’re watching these eagles in immediate time, but also studying them across a long time span, which will allow us to make a very deep map of their lives, their deaths, their struggles, and their triumphs. The names Mom and Dad are undoubtedly better for watching daily. But the names we’ve given them will work better for recording over long stretches of time, where each eagle’s life is like a chapter in the Decorah and Decorah North eagle book.

Is this hard for us? It can be! Once in a while, you’ll see me use terms like mom and dad. If I’m writing from an eaglet’s perspective, I’m going to use mom or dad. For example, D32 escaped from the nest cup and sat next to dad. While we don’t know the word, sound, or sight that D32 associates with its dad, it is probably not ‘second male eagle on the Decorah territory’. Similarly, I might write that DNF is doing well as a new mom. Writing that DNF is doing well as a new North female doesn’t encapsulate what we’re trying to say.

In short – we refer to our eagles with labels for several important reasons:

  • Uniformity across media, including our website, our educational outreach, blogs, Facebook, and research publications.
  • Longevity. We have been tracking multiple eagles and nests since 2003, and we see that trend continuing into the future.
    • Research. It is much easier to search for data on specific eagles when the eagles have a consistent identity.

Please help us stay on track by using our naming format while we watch, enjoy, and observe eagles at all our nests. Consistent naming helps other fans, local observers, researchers, videographers and volunteers as they gather and share information, videos, captures, and pictures.

We understand the disappointment of people hoping for something more familiar. When we watch our lovely parents – DM2 providing for his family, DNF tenderly feeding DN9 – we think of them as Dads and Moms. It’s jarring to think of them one way and call them something else. But the eagles by any name will still retain their dear perfection to us. Thank you for understanding, for watching, and for caring!

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.