A Pronghorn by Any Other Name

In Arizona and throughout the West, our native speedster, the pronghorn, has always been called “antelope.”

On the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s web page describing this animal, the word “pronghorn” appears just seven times; the word “antelope,” 26 times.

In Arizona’s hunting regulations, bridging the gap between correct terminology and current usage, this animal is called “pronghorn antelope.”

But in Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, we call it “pronghorn.”

Why? Because despite what many people say, the pronghorn is not an antelope. Antelope are creatures of Africa and Eurasia, and the pronghorn is from right here in North America. Antelope are members of the bovine family—cousins to cows. The pronghorn is a member of the Antilocapridae family. The only member, in fact; all the others are extinct. Our pronghorn is most closely related to the giraffe, not the antelope.

True, pronghorn and antelope look similar. They fill a similar ecological niche on different continents. But I feel strongly—some might say, ridiculously so—about using the right words for things. I feel especially strongly about this when it comes to using the right words for wildlife, in Arizona Wildlife Views magazine.

If you can’t find the right name for an Arizona wildlife species in our pages, where can you find it?

But what is the “right” name for the pronghorn? Is it the common name scientists use, or the one used by the person down the street? Is it the term used in state law, or the one in the widely accepted text “Mammals of Arizona”?

If Arizona Wildlife Views magazine uses “pronghorn,” are we out of touch? If we use “antelope,” are we pandering to a misconception? If we use “pronghorn antelope,” are we both wrong and misleading? What about the clunky “pronghorn (aka antelope)”? Even worse?

I was interviewing a researcher the other day, and we got to talking about pronghorn. She described how surprisingly delicate and small they are, “smaller than deer, even.” We talked about how fast they run. Taking into account their delicacy and swiftness, she said, “I call them ‘speed goats.’”

That sounds good. Let’s go with that.


2 thoughts on “A Pronghorn by Any Other Name

Add yours

  1. Such a puzzle. . . but I like “speed goats” for casual conversations. In the magazine, stick with Pronghorn and explain why if confronted. Whoever does the AGFD web page needs to do a little research and get it right.

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