In Allen & Greenough, §34, I see a short discussion on the gender of animal names:
Many nouns may be either masculine or feminine, according to the sex of the object. These are said to be of Common Gender: as, exsul, exile; bōs, ox or cow; parēns, parent.
Note.—Several names of animals have a grammatical gender, independent of sex. These are called epicene. Thus lepus, hare, is always masculine, and vulpēs, fox, is always feminine.
My question is, are there any clues as to which animals have "common gender," and which have a fixed grammatical gender? A few ideas:
- If it's easy to tell the gender of an animal just by looking at it, then it's common gender, otherwise it's grammatical.
- An issue with this is that canis appears to be common gender, while vulpes is grammatical – and it's surely not much more difficult to identify gender in a fox than in a dog.
- If it's a domestic animal, then it's common gender, otherwise it's grammatical.
- But while canis and bos are common gender, ovis is feminine.
Is this simply a matter of memorization? Or is there a guideline, if not a rule, for animal name gender?