Nomenclature (biology)

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In biology, nomenclature (from the Latin nomenclatura , list of names) denotes the discipline of the scientific naming of living beings . Within the sciences it represents the basis for internationally understandable and verifiable communication about organisms. The rules of the nomenclature only determine the designation. The delimitation and recognition of the systematic units themselves ( taxonomy ) and their hierarchy and relationship ( systematics ) are independent of this.

Because of its importance, it is contained in strict regulations, so-called codes . For the various groups of organisms (plants including fungi and algae, animals, bacteria, viruses) there are separate, independent nomenclature rules.

Origin of the biological naming

The first scientific works on plants and animals were printed from around 1550, biological science in today's sense with empirical studies was from around 1670, z. B. operated by Maria Sibylla Merian . From then on, the number of known species quickly increased to several thousand, which required an effective system of biological species naming. The first approaches to binary naming already existed with the introduction of double names for genera and species by John Ray .

Based on earlier approaches, Carl von Linné introduced a system for naming plant species in his book Species Plantarum in 1753. This system differed from previous systems in that only a single species name was added to a generic name. For zoology , the introduction followed in 1758 in the 10th edition (1757-1759) of his work Systema naturae , which was fundamental for biological systematics , and which appeared in 12 editions between 1735 and 1768. The introduction of the binomial replaced the previously common, cumbersome method of placing the species diagnosis as a so-called phrase in the name. Although names were already common for the genera, the species was circumscribed by stringing together for characteristic features that were also not standardized. The botanist Dillenius described a type of moss in 1718: "Bryum aureum capitulis reflexis piriformibus, calyptra quadrangulari, foliis in bulbi formam congestis", his contemporary Rupp called the same moss in 1718 "Muscus capillaceus rotundiore, capsula folio oblonga, incurva". In the binary nomenclature by the method of Linnaeus made Johann Hedwig from Funaria hygrometrica .

The binary nomenclature introduced by Linnaeus shortened and standardized the form of the name. However, it continued to be common for different authors to assign different names to the same species. National naming systems quickly emerged, mostly following the authority of important researchers. It was common for the same species to have a different name in England than in France or Germany, and even within the nations individual explorers used different names out of personal likes or dislikes; some were probably driven by vanity to invent new names. To overcome this situation, in 1842 a commission of the British Association for the Advancement of Science , which included illustrious researchers such as Charles Darwin and Richard Owen , proposed a set of naming rules, which, after the rapporteur Hugh Edwin Strickland, is usually called the "Strickland Code" .

The most important innovation of the Strickland Code was a priority rule according to which the name that had been introduced by the first describer should be used, but not names prior to Linnaeus' work, in which the binary nomenclature had been introduced. In the case of a taxonomic change such as the splitting of a species or genus into several new ones, one of the newly subdivided groups should always keep the original name. The "Strickland Code" was formally adopted by numerous scientific societies in other nations, it was specified and revised several times, but it was by no means generally recognized or binding. At the International Congresses of Zoology (the first was in Paris, 1889) the rules were debated for a long time and various commissions were set up. In 1895 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature was founded. But it took until the fifth congress (in Berlin, 1901) to come to an agreement. The result, the “Règles internationales de la Nomenclature zoologique”, was published in 1905 (in French, English and German). These were replaced in 1961 by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature .

The first proposal to standardize the botanical nomenclature came from Augustin-Pyrame de Candolle in 1813. His son Alphonse Pyrame de Candolle achieved the adoption of the "Paris Code" (1867) at the first International Botanical Congress in Paris. In 1905 a code was adopted, but not all botanists accepted it. The first International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which was deemed to be generally binding, was not adopted until 1930.

With the establishment of strict but different sets of rules, botanical and zoological rules for naming finally drifted apart. For a long time, microbiology was based on the botanical set of rules until a separate code for the nomenclature of bacteria was created in 1980.

The earliest priority limit for questions of zoological nomenclature was determined with January 1, 1758 as the fixed publication date of the 10th edition of the Systema Naturae . For botany , May 1, 1753, the set date of publication of the first edition of Linné's work Species plantarum, applies accordingly . Names used in older works are not recognized. The only exception here in zoology is the group of spiders, for which the zoologists decided that the important work Svenska spindlar von Clerck (1757) was published after the 10th edition of the Systema Naturae - and therefore considered available for the nomenclature.

Form of the name

Binary nomenclature according to Linnaeus

The binary nomenclature ( Latin binarius 'containing two', nomenclatura 'directory of names') as a classification scheme ( taxonomy ) common in science for the nomenclature of biological species goes back to Carl von Linné (1707–1778).

The two-part basic component consists of the name of the genus , which always begins as a noun with a capital letter, and an epithet , which is now always lowercase , often an adjective, which, in combination with the genus, characterizes the species . The second word is in botany the Style epithet ( epithet specificum called) in zoology is the species name ( Engl. Specific name ) spoke. The two words together form the name of the species , for example the scientific name for the (anatomically modern) human being is Homo sapiens . Each such combination of generic name and epithet may only be assigned once - i.e. only for one species. Generic name and epithet, as well as the names of the other taxonomic groups, usually come from the Latin or Greek language. Non-Latin names are Latinized . This is in the tradition of the time when Latin was the lingua franca of scholars in the western world.

In contrast to everyday usage, the binomial appears in italics in scientific literature . For works with taxonomic topics, the name of the species is followed by the author's quote, the surname or abbreviation of the name of the person who wrote the first valid scientific description of the living being. This can also be omitted in applied works; here is often z. B. referenced to a standard list or a directory of names. This is followed by the year of publication of this description in zoology. Other international nomenclature provisions regulate, for example, that the epithet is usually retained, even if the species is placed in a different genus or if it has a species status, e.g. B. is converted into a subspecies etc.

The generic name is written with a capital initial letter and is a noun in the nominative singular which is latinized if necessary . For microbiology it is even prescribed that the generic name be treated as a Latin noun. The species epithet in botany is usually written in lower case and is a Latin or Latinized adjective or noun in the nominative singular or a noun in the genitive. An adjective must follow the genus name in grammatical gender and is adjusted accordingly if the genre is changed. This also applies to the names of the bacteria. In zoology, the species name is always written in lower case (even at the beginning of a sentence), a letter combination of at least two letters that can be reasonably pronounced in any language is sufficient. If the species name is a Latin or Latinized adjective, this is adapted to the gender of the generic name in most animal groups.

If a species cannot be determined with certainty, cf. between the genus name and the species epithet (Latin confer “compare !, bring together !, one compare”).


For the scientific names of plants species , - genus , - family and other taxonomic ranks is that of Carl Linnaeus in his work in 1753 Species Plantarum justified binary naming system used today by the "International Code of Nomenclature for algae , fungi and plants" (ICN / ICNafp) - until 2011 "International Code of Botanical Nomenclature" (ICBN) - is regulated.

In the case of plant species, the genus name and the species epithet must not be identical; the name Linaria linaria , for example, would not be permitted (cf. tautonym ).

For names below the species rank, the name of the rank must be mentioned (usually as an abbreviation: subspecies  ⇒ "subsp." (Formerly also "ssp."), Variety  ⇒ "var.", Format  ⇒ "f.") - this stands in contrast to the zoological nomenclature . The respective abbreviation is not written in italics; Example: Stachys recta subsp. grandiflora .

The full name also includes the author's abbreviation of the name, which is often written in small caps and non-italics (e.g. Anchusa officinalis L .; "L." is the standardized abbreviation for "Linné" (see above)). If a species is later assigned to another genus (→  recombination ), the author of the basionym is still listed in brackets (e.g. Anchusa arvensis (L.) M.Bieb .; Linné has therefore described the species (as Lycopsis arvensis ) , but von Bieberstein then placed it in a different genre).

This double quoting of author names is permitted in zoological nomenclature, but it is completely unusual.


Systema Naturæ , published by Carl von Linné in 1758, was set as the starting point for the scientific names of animal species , genera or families . The naming is now regulated by the International Rules for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN Code) .

The scientific name of an animal species consists of two parts of the name, one for the genus (genus name) and one for the species (species name). Together they form the name of the species, which in this combination may only designate one particular species, i.e. must be unique. The second specific part of the name, the additional species, which is misleadingly also called the species name in zoology, always begins with a lowercase letter. On the other hand, genera, families and all higher groups are named with one-part names that start with a capital letter (the code only regulates naming up to the family level).

The different species of a genus must have different names; however, using the same species addition in different genera is permitted. Unlike in botany, names can also be given in zoology in which the genus part and the additional species are the same (tautonymy, e.g. eagle owl : Bubo bubo ).

Within the zoological nomenclature, additions to the binomial names are possible:

Outside and within scientific contexts, other name constructions are also used to which the code of the zoological nomenclature does not apply (i.e. such names are not regulated by the code):

  • the naming of varieties and forms (e.g. color morphs of butterflies) or cultivated forms or other units below subspecific rank by adding another lowercase name and the designation var. for variety or forma for form. The term variety is no longer used in zoology, but older names described as varieties are available and can be used by later editors as names for species or subspecies. For example, the freshwater snail Bithynia troscheli var. Sibirica described by Carl Agardh Westerlund was later described as the species Bithynia sibirica Westerlund in 1886.
  • the naming of hybrids with binomial species names is excluded from the ICZN, nor is the correct naming of the generations (F1 – F6 etc.) regulated there. For example, the name Equus mulus Erxleben , 1777, is not a valid name for the mule (always an F1 generation) that was crossed from a horse mare ( Equus caballus ) and a donkey ( Equus asinus ). Instead, the naming takes the form of a hybrid formula by specifying the species names of both parents to Equus caballus × asinus . Mostly the name of the female is mentioned first. The F1 generation with reversed sexes, the mule , is often written according to Equus asinus × caballus . In the case of plants, the description of hybrids according to the code of the botanical nomenclature is permissible, but is not recommended without restrictions.


For the scientific names of bacteria , the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ICNB) - referred to in short as the bacteriological code - is used. It is monitored and published by the International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP, English for "International Commission for the Systematics of Prokaryotes"). In the future, the Code International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes (English for "International Code of the Nomenclature of Prokaryotes ") will be called. It applies to bacteria, other microorganisms are covered by other sets of rules: fungi and algae by the ICN / ICNafp used in botany, protozoa by the ICZN used in zoology. Until 1975 the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) was used to name bacteria. It took several international congresses for microbiology before a separate set of rules was drawn up. The background was that at that time around 30,000 names were published in the literature, but many of them could not be clearly assigned to a particular type of bacteria.

From 1976 onwards the creation of lists with approved bacterial names (English Approved Lists of Bacterial Names ) was established and January 1, 1980 was set as the starting point for the bacteriological code. From this point on, all bacteria names not on the lists were considered invalid. Since then, new bacteria names have to be assigned according to the code. A revision of the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria was issued in 1990, which is currently valid (as of 2014). The second edition of the Approved Lists of Bacterial Names was published in 1989, since then they have been supplemented by regular publications of the Validation Lists ("confirmation lists ").

In the bacteriological code, the taxonomic grades of class , order , family, genus, species and subspecies are recorded, whereby there are also intermediate grades , such as B. Can give subordination. The use of the variety rank is not permitted. The taxa between subclass and genus have a certain word ending ( suffix ) according to their rank . Names for subspecies are - as in botany - a ternary combination including the abbreviation "subsp.", Such as B. Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus . It happens more often that the names of people who have made a name for themselves in microbiology are taken up in generic names. There are fixed rules for the formation of such generic names and they are feminine, regardless of the person. Examples are the genera Hamadaea (named after Masa Hamada ), Kurthia (named after Heinrich Kurth ) or Nesterenkonia (named after Olga Nesterenko ). The use of a diminutive is also often found, as in Bordetella , Klebsiella , Salmonella or Legionella . As in botany, the author's name (s) (but not as an abbreviation) and the year of the first description are placed after the name of the taxon. The rules for recombination are used analogously. It also happens that the description of a taxon was later improved by one or more authors. In this case, the names of the authors are listed after the abbreviation “emend.” (Latin emendavit for “improved” or “corrected”) with the year of the description. If both are true, longer combinations result, as in Micrococcus luteus ( Schröter 1872) Cohn 1872 emend. Wieser et al. 2002. The use of small caps for author names is not regulated in the Bacteriological Code.


The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) is responsible for the scientific naming of viruses (including satellites and viroids , with ranks of species (species) and higher) . In contrast to the names for living beings (biota), the naming conventions at the level of the species and below are more free. Binary naming can occur, but does not have to be. The names of all ranks from species upwards are in italics, abbreviations never (examples are the family Retroviridae with their species Human immunodeficiency virus 1 , abbreviated as HIV-1 ), certain strains (isolates Originally English the physical things you work with in the lab or that make you sick ) neither , nor any species and generic names etc.

. For each rank of the three groups mentioned there is a prescribed name ending ( … virales for virus orders, … satellitidae for satellite families, etc.). Diacritical marks are removed from the suggested names by the ICTV for the official designations (for example in names from French or in the Latin transcription of Chinese [marking of tones] ). The ICTV taxonomic system is the same as for living beings (biota) on the Genome analysis and thus replaces a classification ( LHT system ) that has been in use since the 1960s and is based on the external appearance and the triggered clinical picture .


The names are usually assigned by the researchers who scientifically describe the species for the first time ( initial description ). There are a few special cases in both botany and zoology in which the description was published beforehand and without proper attribution - in these cases the species name is assigned to the person who first correctly introduced the name.

In order to make the name use more unambiguous by specifying the original source of a name, the name of the author is appended to the scientific name in scientific literature. In botany, the author's name is usually abbreviated in accordance with Brummitt and Powell (1982) and the International Plant Names Index, while abbreviations are undesirable in zoology. If an animal species is in a different genus than that in which it was originally described, the author and year are put in brackets. The initials of the abbreviation for the first name of the author are often added in some animal groups when there were other authors with the same surname in the same animal group (although no uniform criteria are used anywhere). These initials are undesirable in biodiversity informatics .

Criteria for naming

The names of the genus and species group are often derived from a special characteristic (e.g. color, size, behavior), from the place of discovery or from a personal name, but it is considered frowned upon to name the species after yourself.

If an editor considers several names to be synonyms of the same type, the oldest available name has priority (principle of priority) and the synonyms denote invalid names.

See also: List of bizarre scientific names from biology - on the principle freedom of the author to assign the name, provided that no fundamental rules are violated

International regulations on nomenclature

Today the following sets of rules ( nomenclature codes ) are accepted:

PhyloCode and BioCode are proposed in the 1990s, but so far without acceptance . The BioCode would like to introduce a uniform system of nomenclature for all living beings with the exception of viruses, i.e. to replace the systems ICBN, IRZN, ICNB and ICNCP. It is intended in PhyloCode to give rules for the designation of all hierarchical groupings above the species.

Problems with the standardization of the existing systems of nomenclature are caused by the not so few cases in which the same scientific generic name was used in the animal kingdom as well as in the vegetable kingdom or in bacteria. For example, the generic name Oenanthe means the water fennel (Apiaceae) in the plant kingdom and the wheatear (birds, Muscicapidae) in the animal kingdom . Other generic names used twice are Alsophila, Ammophila, Arenaria and the like. a. The ICZN recommends (Recommendation 1a) that such duplicate names no longer be used for newly described genera.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. nomenclature at
  2. PON's German-Latin nomenclature .
  3. ^ Karl Mägdefrau: History of botany: life and achievement of great researchers. Springer-Verlag, 2nd edition 2013. ISBN 978-3-642-39400-3 . The example on p. 58.
  4. HEStrickland et al .: Series of propositions for rendering the nomenclature of zoology uniform and permanent. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, including Zoology, Botany and Geology 11: 259-275.
  5. ^ RV Melville (ed.): Towards Stability in the Names of Animals - a History of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature 1895-1995. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature. ISBN 0-85301-005-6 .
  6. ^ Council of Science Editors / Style Manual Committee: Scientific style and format. The CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers. 7th edition. The Council, Reston (VA) 2006. p. 345.
  7. J. McNeill et al. a. (Ed.): International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (Vienna Code) adopted by the Seventeenth International Botanical Congress Vienna, Austria. In: Regnum Vegetabile. Volume 146, 2006, Art. 60, Recommendation 60F online.
  8. Scientific terms (see abbreviations there ).
  9. .
  10. J. McNeill et al. a. (Ed.): International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (Vienna Code) adopted by the Seventeenth International Botanical Congress Vienna, Austria. In: Regnum Vegetabile. Volume 146, 2006, Art. 5 ( online ).
  11. As an exception, the work “Svenska Spindlar”, latinized “Aranei Svecici” by the Swedish naturalist Carl Alexander Clerck , which was published in 1757, was specified as the nomenclature basis for the spiders, whereby the code assumes publication not until after the “Systema Naturae” becomes. Carl Alexander Clerck: Svenska Spindlar uti sina hufvud-slågter indelte including under några and sextio särskildte arter deskrefne and with illuminerade figurer uplyste. Latin: Aranei Svecici, descriptionibus et figuris æneis illustrati, ad genera subalterna redacti, speciebus ultra LX determinati. L. Salvii, Stockholmiæ 1757.
  12. Ekaterina A. Lazutkina, Nikolay I. Andreyev, Svetlana I. Andreyeva, Peter Gloer, Maxim V. Vinarski (2009): On the taxonomic state of Bithynia troschelii var.sibirica Westerlund, 1886, a Siberian endemic bithyniid snail (Gastropoda: Bithyniidae ). In: Mollusca. 27 (2): 113-122.
  13. Article 1. Definition and scope. In: ICZN online. International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), accessed on June 8, 2018 (English, Article 1.3.3).
  14. Article 17. Names found to denote more than one taxon, or taxa of hybrid origin, or based on parts or stages of animals or on unusual specimens. In: ICZN online. International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), accessed June 8, 2018 (English, Article 17.2).
  15. ICBN Appendix 1
  16. ICBN Rec. H.10B.1.
  17. a b c d SP Lapage, PHA Sneath, EF Lessel, VBD Skerman, HPR Seeliger, WA Clark (eds.): International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria - Bacteriological Code, 1990 Revision . ASM Press, Washington (DC), USA 1992, ISBN 1-55581-039-X ( NCBI Bookshelf ).
  18. ^ A b Peter HA Sneath: The preparation of the Approved Lists of Bacterial Names. In: International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. Volume 55, No. 6, November 2005, pp. 2247-2249, ISSN  1466-5026 . doi: 10.1099 / ijs.0.64137-0 .
  19. Victor BD Skerman, Vicki McGowan, Peter HA Sneath (Eds.): Approved Lists of Bacterial Names (Amended) . 2nd Edition. ASM Press, Washington (DC), USA 1989, ISBN 978-1-55581-014-6 ( NCBI Bookshelf ).
  20. Lapage et al .: Bacteriological Code. 1992, Names of Subspecies: Rule 13a.
  21. a b ICTV: How to write a virus name (2019)
  22. ICTV homepage
  23. ICTV: ICTV Master Species List 2018a v1 , MSL # 33 including all taxa updates since the 2017 release.
  24. J. McNeill et al. a. (Ed.): International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (Vienna Code) adopted by the Seventeenth International Botanical Congress Vienna, Austria. In: Regnum Vegetabile. Volume 146, 2006, Art. 7.3 ( online ).
  25. ^ RK Brummitt, CE Powell: Authors of plant names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1992, ISBN 0-947643-44-3 .
  26. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Harvard University Herbaria, Australian National Herbarium (Ed.): The International Plant Names Index. 2004- ( ).
  27. ICZN Rec. 1a

Web links and further literature

Translation and explanation of botanical names