How does a name become available?

To become available, new names must be published following the criteria in Articles 1.3 & 10-20. The criteria have become stricter over time, reflecting improved standards in nomenclature. Some of the main criteria are as follows:

  • Names must have been published after 1757 (Articles 8, 11.1)
    • January 1st 1758 is taken to be the start of zoological nomenclature, and deemed to be the publication date of Linnaeus’ 10th edition of Systema Naturae and Clerck’s Aranei Svecici. These two works contain the first available names.
  • Names must be spelled with the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet – accents etc. do not make names unavailable but must be corrected (Article 11.2).
  • The principle of binominal nomenclature must have been applied (Article 11.4).
  • Genus and species names must contain two or more letters (Articles 11.8-9). 
  • Species names must be published with a genus name (Articles 11.9). 
  • Names published before 1931 can be accompanied by an “indication” instead of a description. E.g. an “indication” could be a reference to a previously published description, or even just an illustration (Article 12). 
  • Names published after 1930 must be accompanied by a description that is meant to distinguish the taxon from other taxa, or reference to previously published description or be new replacement names (Article 13). 
  • After 1930 genus names must have type species fixed (Article 13). 
  • After 1950 anonymously published names are not available (Article 14).
    After 1960 names published for varieties or forms are not available (Article 15). 
  • After 1999 new names must be indicated as new (Article 16).
    After 1999 type genera of family names must be cited (Article 16). 
  • After 1999 types must be explicitly fixed for species names (Article 16). 
  • Availability is not affected by the inappropriateness of names (Article 18).
    E.g. the genus name for swifts Apus (from the Greek apous, meaning without feet) is still available, even though birds of this genus have feet.
    Availability may be affected if there is more than one spelling (Article 19).
  • Names are not available for hypothetical concepts, teratological specimens, hybrid specimens, generally for names below the rank of subspecies (see also Article 10.2; 45.5-6), temporary names, and after 1930 for the work of animals (e.g. nests and tracks, see also Article 13) (Article 1.3).
    E.g. the name “Nessiteras rhombopteryx” coined for the mythical Loch Ness Monster by Sir Peter Scott and Robert Rines in the journal Nature (vol. 258, pp. 466-468) is unavailable because it is a hypothetical concept. The name is also an anagram of “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S.”. Journal editors beware! 
  • A name that is not otherwise available can be ruled available by the Commission.

    Loch Ness in Scotland, home of the mythical and hence unavailably named “Nessiteras rhombopteryx”, also known as the Loch Ness Monster.

    Picture credit “Sam Fentress”:

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith