ZooKeys 192: 67–72, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.192.3347
Biological nomenclature terms for facilitating communication in the naming of organisms
John David 1, George M. Garrity 2, Werner Greuter 3, David L. Hawksworth 4, Regine Jahn 5, Paul M Kirk 6, John McNeill 7, Ellinor Michel 8, Sandra Knapp 9, David J. Patterson 10, Brian J. Tindall 11, Jonathan A. Todd 12, Jan van Tol 13, Nicholas J. Turland 14
1 Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB, UK
2 Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, Biomedical and Physical Sciences, 567 Wilson Road Room 6162, East Lansing, MI 48824-4320 USA
3 Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Freie Universität Berlin, Königin-Luise-Straße 6-8, D-14195 Berlin, Germany; and Herbarium Mediterraneum, c/o Orto Botanico, via Lincoln 2/A, I-90121 Palermo, Italy
4 Departamento de Biología Vegetal II, Facultad de Farmácia, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Plaza Ramón y Cajal, 28040 Madrid, Spain; & Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
5 Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Freie Universität Berlin, Königin-Luise-Straße 6-8, D-14195 Berlin, Germany
6 CABI UK, Bakeham Lane, Egham, Surrey TW20 9TY, UK
7 Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR, Scotland, UK; and Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada
8 International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
9 Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
10 Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole MA 02543, USA
11 Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH, Inhoffenstraße 7B, 38124 Braunschweig, Germany
12 Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
13 Leiden University, National Museum of Natural History (Naturalis), P.O. Box 9517, NL-2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
14 Missouri Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299, USA

Corresponding author: Sandra Knapp (s.knapp@nhm.ac.uk)

Academic editor: Lyubomir Penev

received 4 May 2011 | accepted 7 May 2012 | Published 8 May 2012

(C) 2012 John David. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 (CC-BY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

For reference, use of the paginated PDF or printed version of this article is recommended.


A set of terms recommended for use in facilitating communication in biological nomenclature is presented as a table showing broadly equivalent terms used in the traditional Codes of nomenclature. These terms are intended to help those engaged in naming across organism groups, and are the result of the work of the International Committee on Bionomenclature, whose aim is to promote harmonisation and communication amongst those naming life on Earth.


Nomenclature, Code, terminology

The International Committee on Bionomenclature (ICB, http://www.bionomenclature.net/) met in Berlin from 26–28 April 2012. As a part of this meeting it reviewed the status of communication between and change in the various international sets of rules that biologists follow when naming organisms – the Codes of nomenclature. The group exchanged updates on the status of the Codes (see Table 1 for abbreviations used for the various Codes of nomenclature) and discussed how to enhance inter-community communication with the aim of bringing together those concerned with naming life on Earth.

Recent progress on developing a Global Names Architecture (http://www.globalnames.org) has meant that the communities working on the various indices for a variety of organism groups are not only working in their own domains, but are increasingly developing technological solutions to enable more efficient retrieval of names of all organisms, along with information pertaining to their first publication. As groups focused on the nomenclature of various organisms work more closely together, efficient communication becomes ever more important. Recent changes in the rules governing the naming of prokaryotes (Labeda 2000; and for example Labeda and Oren 2011) and of algae, fungi and plants (see Hawksworth 2011; Knapp et al. 2011; McNeill and Turland 2011), in addition to those proposed for zoology (e.g., International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature 2008), are bringing the terminology used in and practices of the Codes closer together, and the Committee felt that agreement on a basic set of terms to be used when engaging in inter-community communication would greatly assist this on-going process. Naming of organisms is so critical that it is important that we work together on a greater consistency in nomenclatural practices to enable a swifter, more efficient documentation of biodiversity and help meet the global challenges of understanding Earth’s genetic diversity and resources.

Table 1.

Recommended terms for use in biological nomenclature with a comparison of equivalents across six current Codes of nomenclature

Bionomenclature ICN1 ICNCP2 ICNP3 ICVCN4 ICZN5 PhyloCode6
Publication and precedence of names
published effectively published published effectively published [none] published published
precedence/priority priority priority priority [none] precedence/priority precedence
earlier earlier earlier earlier [none] senior earlier
later later later later [none] junior later
Nomenclatural status
established validly published established validly published established available established
compliant legitimate acceptable legitimate valid potentially valid acceptable
non-compliant illegitimate [none] illegitimate [none] permanently invalid [none]
registered [deposited] registered validly published [none] registered registered
Taxonomic status
accepted correct accepted correct accepted valid accepted
Synonymy and homonymy
homotypic homotypic [none] homotypic [none] objective homodefinitional
heterotypic heterotypic [none] heterotypic [none] subjective heterodefinitional
replacement name replacement name replacement name replacement name [none] new replacement replacement name
Conservation and suppression
conserved conserved conserved conserved [none] conserved conserved
protected listed [none] listed7 accepted protected [none]
sanctioned (fungi only) sanctioned (fungi only) [none] [none] [none] [none] [none]
suppressed/rejected rejected rejected rejected [none] suppressed suppressed
Types of names
name-bearing type nomenclatural type nomenclatural standard nomenclatural type [none] name-bearing type [none]
nominal taxon name and type [none] name and type [none] nominal taxon [none]

1International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) or Melbourne Code (McNeill et al. 2012). It is expected to be available online in 2013 at http://www.iapt-taxon.org

2International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) or Cultivated Plant Code, 8th edition (Brickell et al. 2009); http://www.actahort.org/chronica/pdf/sh_10.pdf

3International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes (the name adopted for the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ICNB) or Bacteriological Code (Lapage et al. 1992), see Labeda 2000): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK8817/)

4The International Code of Virus Classification and Nomenclature (ICVCN), in Virus Taxonomy (ed. King et al. 2011)

5International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), 4th edition (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature 1999): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted-sites/iczn/code/

6International Code of Phylogenetic Nomenclature or PhyloCode, version 4c (Cantino and Queiroz 2010): http://www.ohio.edu/phylocode/

7 Listed in the sense of appearing on The Approved Lists of Bacterial Names

This table of terms is not comprehensive, but includes those terms that differ (or have differed in the past) significantly and have the potential to cause confusion. It is based on the table of equivalence of technical terms arising from discussions on harmonisation of nomenclature (Hawksworth 1995) and that accompanying the first Draft BioCode (Greuter et al. 1996). These early attempts have here been updated to reflect current usage of terms in the various Codes. As with the early tables, the terms in each row are not perfectly congruent. We recommend the use of these terms to facilitate communication between those working with the nomenclature of different groups of organisms without necessarily displacing those used by tradition within the various communities. These terms can be employed where considered of value in presentations, publications, and teaching, as well as in discussions between the communities who use the different Codes. We invite and welcome comment on the commended terms, and suggestions for other terms that have caused confusion that might be added – our aim is not to impose practice, but to facilitate communication among all involved in the naming of organisms of all kinds.


We thank the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) for financial support for our through the 2009-2012 IUBS “BioCode Programme”.

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Cantino PD, Queiroz K de (2010) International Code of Phylogenetic Nomenclature, version 4c. http://www.ohio.edu/phylocode/.
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International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (1999) International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, fourth edition, Ride WDL, Cogger HG, Dupuis C, Kraus O, Minelli A, Thompson FC, Tubbs PK (eds.). Adopted by the International Union of Biological Sciences. London: International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature.
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (2008) Proposed amendment of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature to expand and refine methods of publication. Zootaxa 1908: 57-67.
International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (2011) The International Code of Virus Classification and Nomenclature of ICTV. Pp. 1273–1277 In: King AMQ, Lefkowitz EJ, Adams MJ, Carstens EB (Eds) Virus taxonomy: ninth report of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Amsterdam: Elsevier Academic Press.
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Current membership of the International Committee on Bionomenclature

(ICB – contact details for all members are available at http://www.bionomenclature.net/)

Michael J. Adams, Rothamsted, UK

Philip D. Cantino, Athens Ohio, USA

John David, Wisley, Surrey, UK

George Garrity, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Daphne Fautin, Lawrence, Kansas, USA

Werner Greuter, Berlin, Germany and Palermo, Italy

David L. Hawksworth, London, UK and Madrid, Spain

Regine Jahn, Berlin, Germany (Deputy Secretary)

Paul M Kirk, Egham, Surrey, UK

John McNeill, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK and Toronto, Canada

Ellinor Michel, London, UK (Vice-Chair)

Sandra Knapp, London, UK (Chair)

David Patterson; Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA (Secretary)

Richard Pyle, Honolulu, Hawa’i, USA

David Remsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Gary Rosenberg, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Brian Tindall, Braunschweig, Germany

Jonathan A. Todd, London, UK

Jan van Tol, Leiden, The Netherlands

Nick Turland, St. Louis, Missouri, USA