From The Guardian (a British newspaper), here’s a recent headline:

Peru airs news in Quechua, indigenous language of Inca empire, for first time

What does this have to do with the California condor?

The English word condor comes, via Spanish, from the Quechua (formerly Qquichua) language. A Quechua-Spanish dictionary published in 1608 lists the Quechua word cuntur and provides the Spanish translation as el ave condor; in English, the bird condor.

01 Dictionary title.jpg

The condor referred to in the dictionary was the bird we know today as the Andean condor.

In February 1694, Hans Sloane published an article about the Andean condor that employed the Quechua spelling: “An Account of a Prodigiously Large Feather of the Bird Cuntur, Brought from Chili, and Supposed to Be a Kind of Vultur; and of the Coffee-Shrub.” This report, combining New World zoology and botany, appeared in Philosophical Transactions. This journal was and still is published by the Royal Society of London.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that condor was applied to the California vulture and then it took decades for the name California condor to really catch on.

Names come to the present via winding paths from the past.

Fortunately, the Quechua language, like the California and Andean condors, survives and is experiencing a resurgence. According to The Guardian article

… with around [8 million] speakers in the parts of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina and Chile once dominated by the Incas, Quechua – in all its regional varieties – remains the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas.

But is condor the best name for the California bird? That’s a topic for the future.

Gonzalez Holguin, Diego. Vocabulario de la lengua general de todo el Peru llamada lengua Qquichua, o del Inca. 1608.