Nomenclature is the system of scientific names for taxa (such as species, genera, or families) and the rules and conventions for the formation, treatment, and use of those names. It follows an internationally agreed, quasi-legal procedure. Taxonomy is the identification and interpretation of natural groups of organisms (i.e., taxa) based on characters (such as morphology, genetics, behaviour, ecology). The discovery and delimitation of taxa is a science. Nomenclature and taxonomy are closely allied but separate aspects of ordering information about biodiversity.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The ICZN only applies to animal names, and not to names of plants, fungi, bacteria or viruses, which are covered by separate codes of nomenclature.
Names of subspecies are governed by the Code and are available names (if they meet the criteria for proper publication). A scientific name added as a trinomen on the end of a bionomen is taken to indicate a subspecies.
Each of the major nomenclatural Codes (ICBN, ICNB, ICTV) is exclusive; they govern homonymy independently. Thus homonyms (the same name for different taxa) are allowed between Codes. For example, the genus Ficus is available and valid for both a gastropod genus and the plants commonly called figs. It is assumed that points of confusion in referring to organisms in different Kingdoms will be rare, thus homonymy is not controlled in these cases.
No, only scientific names are covered by the ICZN. Common names may be standardised within particular regions or for particular taxonomic groups, but there is no international standardization. There are a few projects that are aiming to bring together scientific and common names such as the Pan-European Species Infrastructure (http://www.eu-nomen.eu/pesi/) or FishBase (www.fishbase.org/), but these are databasing projects and do not include a regulatory process.
The ICZN does not police the use of zoological nomenclature. The Commission rules on Cases that are brought before it by interested parties (usually taxonomists), thus acts as an arbitrator and judge, but does not seek out nomenclatural problems.
The Code is written by an editorial committee of Commissioners. Drafts of each section are made available for public comment before the final text is drafted. There is an Editorial Committee currently developing a new, 5th Edition of the Code. Input is sought via a wiki at: http://iczn.ansp.org/, or issues can be discussed on the ICZN listserver.
The English and French versions of the Code hold equal authority. There are a few points where linguistic differences cause a problem in determining the authoritative meaning of these two versions. The next edition of the Code will have English as its sole authoritative text.
The work of the Commission is to consider how to interpret the Code and when it should be over-ruled to maintain nomenclatural stability and universality. Plenary power (Arts. 78.1 & 81) allows the Commission to suspend application of any particular provision of the Code; to do so requires a Case be considered under the rules of publication, voting and the result (the ruling) needs to be published in an official Opinion. The Code does not operate on precedent – each Case is considered on individual merit – thus past rulings do not affect how the Code is interpreted in the future.
The Articles of the Code are designed to enable zoologists to arrive at correct names of taxa. The Code provides guidance on establishing new names, rules to determine whether any existing name is available and with what priority, whether it requires amendment for correct use, and how to determine the name-bearing type. If the path to resolution is laid out clearly by the Code, you may publish your conclusions without involving the Commission. If resolution of a nomenclatural problem is best served by overruling the Code, you should make an application to the Commission.