Talk:Synonym (taxonomy)

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Pro parteEdit

Could someone find and include definition of this category of "synonyms". Shyamal (talk) 03:20, 1 March 2009 (UTC)

tarpan exampleEdit

I have deleted the following example from the main page (this example was given for an objective synonym at the level of species):

An example is the tarpan (the European wild horse) which was described by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1774. In 1784 Pieter Boddaert named the tarpan Equus ferus, referring to Gmelin's description. Unaware of Boddaert's name, Otto Antonius published the name Equus gmelini in 1912, again referring to Gmelin's description. Since the two names refer to the same description, they are objective synonyms.

This is incorrect.

  • "was described by Gmelin in 1774" is misleading, better write "described but not named".
  • E. gmelini is not an objective synonym as long as there is no evidence that the two names are based on the same and only one name-bearing type specimen (and this would have to be stated as being definitely so in the text of the example). If Gmelin had had two type specimens at his disposal, then the two taxa are not objective synoynms (because a subsequent researcher could select specimen 1 as type for E. ferus, and specimen 2 for E. gmelini - and the two specimens could belong to two species). It must also be made sure that Antonius had no specimens at his own disposal, which would be additional types. But the evidence in Boddaert's work is enlighting:
  • Boddaert 1784 gave a description himself for the animal and references to 3 previously published sources (Pallas 1775: 394 Tab. 7, Gmelin 1774 (1): 45 and Pennant 1771: 2). If no lectotype was designated, then Boddaert's own specimens, Gmelin's, Pallas' and Pennant's are syntypes for E. ferus, and Gmelin's and Antonius' those for E. gmelini.
  • "In 1784 Pieter Boddaert named the tarpan Equus ferus" - also questionable. December 1784 was printed on p. VI of the work, true publication date was probably early 1785. I would also be cautious in such a case. --FranciscoWelterSchultes (talk) 21:13, 13 July 2010 (UTC)

Change of combination is not synonymy in zoological nomenclatureEdit

The Code is not sufficiently clear on this point, and there are no additional authorative works to solve this question by way of a reference. There has been a debate in May/June 2010 in the Taxacom mailing list on the nomenclatural meaning of the term "synonym" in zoology, at which ICZN Commissioners participated and gave a guide how to interprete the Code. Basic result was that for the nomenclatural judging of species-group names under the Code's definition in the Glossary, Felis uncia and Panthera uncia are not regarded as synonyms, but for bioinformaticians the two taxonomic expressions are definitely regarded as synonyms (because the characters differ and the meaning is the same). There was consensus that in the next edition of the Code the definition should be slightly amended, to obtain a clearer meaning for the nomenclatural purpose. I think it can be recommended not to use the term "synonym" in contexts where a nomenclatural meaning could be involved. --FranciscoWelterSchultes (talk) 15:16, 29 September 2010 (UTC)

It seems like the uncia example has been replaced by a new and equally faulty example of "For example, Linnaeus was the first to give a scientific name to the lion, which he called Felis leo. This name is no longer in use: it is now a synonym of the current scientific name which is Panthera leo." Shyamal (talk) 02:26, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
Not everything that is said on Taxacom is thereby true. Anybody is free to post anything there, no matter how controversial or just plain weird. Please use actual references. Bluebell15 (talk) 14:18, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
"Felis leo. This name is no longer in use: " (- article version 4 Nov 2011, first paragraph).
This is of course complete nonsense, the name Felis leo Linnaeus, 1758 is in use. It is used as the valid name for the species currently known as Panthera leo. You can take any one of the more than 3500 cases submitted to the ICZN Commission as a published reference that the usage of a name is defined in this form.
But leave the sentence in this form in the article. It seves as an excellent example for the low degree of reliability of information published in Wikipedia. -- FranciscoWelterSchultes (talk) 00:52, 4 November 2011 (UTC)
I agree that the way it's written is not correct, and I would change it further if I could find a way of saying it that is (a) correct (b) code neutral. Maybe there isn't one, and the lead section should simply separately summarize the meaning of the term "synonym" in the botanical and zoological codes. Peter coxhead (talk) 18:42, 4 November 2011 (UTC)
I have now made an edit because unlike FranciscoWelterSchultes I don't want Wikipedia to contain inaccuracies. I'm aware that there is disagreement among specialists in zoological nomenclature as to whether two species names based on the same specific name are synonyms or not, so that Felix leo vs. Panthera leo isn't the best example to have at the start of the article. (My personal view, but of course this isn't relevant to the article which requires sources, is that the two are synonymous species names, but not synonymous specific names, a distinction which only arises in zoology.) It would be better to use an example where there can be no dispute because both the species names and the specific names are different (e.g. the one in 61.3.1 of the ICN, i.e. Psittacus elegans Gmelin, 1788 and Platycercus flaveolus Gould, 1837, but this rather obscure). Alternatively, the example at this point could be from botany, where the situation is much clearer, since at the species rank there is only one name. It needs some thought and ideally input from specialists. Peter coxhead (talk) 23:25, 4 November 2011 (UTC)
Another possibility is to return to the snow leopard example, but only use the two species names Panthera uncia and Uncia uncia. My objection to the example as originally set out was that it was overly complex as it discussed three possible synonyms, i.e. included Felis uncia. It's easy to show that regardless of what may be a strict interpretation of the term synonym in the ICZN, reliable sources of biological information call Uncia uncia a synonym of Panthera uncia (e.g. the IUCN Red List entry). Avibase is another source which demonstrates the broad use of the term synonym in zoological context (e.g. here Parus palmensis is listed under "Other synonyms" for Cyanistes palmensis). It would be really helpful if those with a specialist interest in this area would make constructive suggestions. Peter coxhead (talk) 09:30, 5 November 2011 (UTC)
In my non-expert view and as I have tried to comprehend the issue, most zoological synopses include a list of alternate names which are what some people have named as "chresonyms" - all known names that could have been applied to the one taxon the author has in mind. The strict taxonomic meaning of synonym however seems to be for only what would be more specifically called junior synonyms. Changes in combination and changes due to splits (pro parte synonyms) are not included in this term. Its a long dispute in just the zoological usage and the situation seems to be worse with cross code abstractions. The majority of Wikipedia taxoboxes are filled in with entries that fit the broad database-oriented sense rather than in the taxonomic sense. Given the inward links to this entry from all taxoboxes, it is important that it captures the issue well and reduce disputes (see for instance Talk:Black_Drongo/GA1, Talk:Snow_leopard#Synonyms ). Shyamal (talk) 11:10, 5 November 2011 (UTC)
Yes, I agree with you entirely that the article needs to capture the issue well (and doesn't at present). The facts seem to be as follows:
  • There is no dispute as to the meaning of the term "synonym" in botanical nomenclature. It's more-or-less the same as the non-taxonomy meaning of "alternative name" except that it only refers to the other names to the one being used, not the whole set of names. The article and the taxoboxes for taxa governed by the ICN are correct in this respect.
  • There is a disagreement as to the meaning of the term "synonym" at the species and subspecies levels in zoological nomenclature. There are sources, e.g. the IUCN and Avibase (i.e. not just Wikipedia!), which use the term "synonym" for species names (i.e. binomial names) governed by the ICZN in effectively the botanical sense. However, a stricter interpretation of the ICZN is that in the case of species the term synonym applies not to species names but to specific names (a distinction which doesn't exist in botanical nomenclature). This means that species names which have the same specific name (not just the same word but the actual same name derived from the same name-bearing type) cannot be synonyms.
Now I would try to get this into the article if I could find a reliable source which explains what I've called above the "stricter alternative". I can find sources which in listing alternative names for species separate out "strict synonyms" from "placement changes", but they don't explain exactly why they do this. Can anyone point to a reliable source which explains what is needed? Peter coxhead (talk) 21:42, 6 November 2011 (UTC)
Depends on how you define a reliable source. You could take Art. 48 of the ICZN Code. The definition for "synonym" in the ICZN Code's Glossary is the following:
synonym, n. Each of two or more names of the same rank used to denote the same taxonomic taxon. (rank = species-group in our case). You would then combine this with Art. 48.
Article 48. Change of generic assignment. An available species-group name, with change in gender ending if required [Art. 34.2], becomes part of another combination whenever it is combined with a different generic name.
This Article excludes that the described action would establish a new name which could be a synonym in the sense of the ICZN Code. -- FranciscoWelterSchultes (talk) 22:51, 6 November 2011 (UTC)

I realize that the zoological Code is not very user-friendly and is very hard to read, but it is disconcerting to see this bad a misunderstandig of something that is this basic.

The lede as it was was quite correct. If the lion is moved from the genus Leo to the genus Panthera then Leo leo becomes a synonym, in the general taxonomic sense.

From a zoological perspective:

  • The name Leo leo is an available name and a name for a taxon (a species).
  • The name Panthera leo is an available name and a name for a taxon (a species).

Only one of these names (at most) can (from a single point of reference, taxonomic and temporal) be the valid / correct name for the lion.

Of course both names share the specific name leo, but a specific name cannot be the name of a taxon, cannot be a valid name and cannot have a type. It does not come into this at all.

As to "rank = species-group", it is just the opposite: "45.1. Definition. The species group encompasses all nominal taxa at the ranks of species and subspecies". "Species group" is not a rank; "species" is a rank, "subspecies" is a rank, etc. A name of a species (Leo leo) may be a synonym of another name of a species (Panthera leo); in fact that is the most frequent case of synonymy (likely better than 50%?). - Bluebell15 (talk) 13:28, 8 November 2011 (UTC)

Just for the record, here's one illustration of why alternative species names, constructed solely by changes of genus, don't meet the full requirements of the ICZN use of the term synonym. The glossary entries for "senior synonym" and "junior synonym" are clear that given any two synonyms, one is the senior and the other the junior. So if Leo leo and Panthera leo are synonyms, which is the senior and which the junior? The answer is neither; they have precisely the same precedence; in precedence terms they are the same name. So these two species names do not have all the properties which ICZN synonyms should have. Peter coxhead (talk) 20:32, 28 November 2011 (UTC)
That is an interesting point, but it only goes so far. The fact that a senior synonym is defined as "Of two synonyms: the earlier established, ..." mostly shows that the editors did not think this through. Suppose you have six subjective synonyms, and you divide them in pairs of names. At a quick count this makes for fifteen pairs, each of which has a senior synonym and a junior synonym; this makes for a total of one valid name, six names in all, fifteen senior synonyms and fifteen junior synonyms, at least by the definition. I doubt there are many zoologists who will go along with this; most will see one senior synonym and five junior synonyms ... I will grant you that it is uncommon to think of Leo leo and Panthera leo as objective synonyms, as any case where the distinction between an objective synonym and a subjective synonym is relevant will consider no more than one of these names and not both of them at the same time. Saying that Leo leo and Panthera leo are objective synonyms is pointless rather than untrue. Bluebell15 (talk) 15:27, 29 November 2011 (UTC)
Actually, I suspect they did think it through. (I'm very new to the zoological code, being much more familiar with the botanical code. I'm slowly realizing that although the zoological code is more difficult to understand – in large part because it doesn't have anything like enough examples compared to the botanical code – it's actually more logical.) The point is that senior/junior is a transitive concept. So given two synonyms, one is senior and one junior. Given three synonyms, one is senior and two junior: if A is senior to B, and B is senior to C, A must be senior to B and C. So you only need to consider a pair in the definition; that there is one senior synonym and (N-1) junior synonyms in a set of N synonyms then follows logically.
I think, as I said above, that all you can say given the current wording of the code (in particular the glossary) is that Leo leo and Panthera leo are synonymous species names, but as such they do not have all the properties which synonymous names of any other kind (e.g. subspecific names, specific names, generic names, family names) have. Whether or not the editors of the code intended to allow species names to be synonyms I'm not qualified to say; many reputable zoological taxonomists seem to think not. I guess we can only wait to see whether this is clarified in the next version. Peter coxhead (talk) 19:00, 29 November 2011 (UTC)
I agree that the zoological Code is very tightly organized; it is very precise and is 'more logical' (than the botanical Code) in the sense that it relies on the reader using logic rather than on examples. However, it also relies on very close reading, back and forth, of all the provisions. Applying logic to isolated provisions is a quick way of going wrong.
The fact is that the editors define "senior synonym" as applying to "Of two synonyms:", so either they did not think things through or they rely on the term being used in a very specific set of circumstances. If the latter, the term should not be used in a general sense, but only in that specific set of circumstances.
To avoid confusion I need to point out that "specific names" "subspecific names" can never be synonyms. They cannnot have a rank and do not denote a taxon. The only name that can be a synonym of a species name is another species name, and until now I have never seen anybody deny that. Whether there is any point in saying that "that Leo leo and Panthera leo are synonymous species names" is open to debate. Apparently several zoologists feel it is not helpful, which suggests that discussions on synonyms are usually focused on other aspects. - Bluebell15 (talk) 14:13, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
With regard to animal taxa, it seems to me that the problem here relates to circumscription of genera, and confusion between names and taxonomic concepts. The ICZN definition of a synonym is "each of two or more names of the same rank used to denote the same taxonomic taxon." If the type species of two generic names are the same, then the generic names are objective synonyms and one of them is invalid. If they are not the same, then the usage of those names is not necessarily governed by the ICZN Code: they are only synonyms as generic names if a systematist decides that the circumscriptions of the two genera overlap. In the example from above, the type species of Panthera is Felis pardus, while type species of Leo is Felis leo. If somebody feels that Felis leo belongs in Panthera, then the generic names Panthera and Leo are subjective synonyms and the junior one is invalid, in that person's interpretation. The ICZN rules relate to the logical conclusion (the name refers to the same taxonomic taxon), but do not govern the subjective premise (that the taxonomic taxa are the same). To somebody else who thinks that Panthera and Leo are separate genera, both names are valid in that person's scheme of things, and also in the eyes of the ICZN (because the names refer to separate taxonomic taxa). Based on these considerations, it is clear that alternative generic combinations (generic names with different type species) employed sujectively to refer to the same species by different authors are not synonyms in the nomenclatural sense because they are being applied to a taxon (species) that is not at the same rank as the names themselves (genus). That is why in Zoology, the authorship of a species name does not change when it is transferred to a different genus. For the bioinformaticians, both synonyms and alternative combinations can simply be referred to as "other names" (or if you need something more highfalutin, nomina altera).Abrower (talk) 20:54, 26 August 2020 (UTC)


Removing "A distinction is made between synonyms which unambiguously refer to the same taxon (those having the same type on which its definition is based), and those where there is room for debate."

I would say it is obvious that the definition of taxa is not based on types. Defining a taxon is done by a taxonomist, using whatever scientific criteria he chooses to use. He is allowed to define a taxon based on a type, and it does happen, but then, typically, a more competent taxonomist will have to come in and straighten things out. Very often a taxon will be defined without a type being involved in any way at all. Certainly, it is common today to define higher-order taxa on the basis of DNA sequencing and a cladistic analysis. Locating the relevant type then is purely an afterthought.

Equally, obviously, "synonyms which unambiguously refer to the same taxon" is weird, this concerns taxa with the same circumscription (homo-circumscribed taxa?). This is very much the exception, and is misguiding to the reader as this phenomenon(?) is not explained. The reader will find plenty of difficult, dryly technical material in the rest of the page, but in that case at least supported by the proper context.

As to the rest of the remark, this page is dealing with three separate topics "synonym (taxonomy)", "synonym (zoology)" and "synonym (botany)", so what is in synonym (zoology) and synonym (botany) does not necessarily bear on what should be in synonym (taxonomy). And for most purposes involving general taxonomy (say, a field guide) nobody cares in the least about distinctions that could be made between synonyms; it just isn't done. It is only when one is discussing nomenclature that there is any point in making distinctions, and these are there, in the text, already. Bluebell15 (talk) 13:07, 20 October 2011 (UTC)

Um... The leading section of an article should be used to summarize its content, so it's not the case the the article deals with "three separate topics" as you've written, so your final paragraph is not really relevant.
You say "Very often a taxon will be defined without a type being involved in any way at all. Certainly, it is common today to define higher-order taxa on the basis of DNA sequencing and a cladistic analysis. Locating the relevant type then is purely an afterthought." But this confuses circumscribing with naming. How to group individuals, species, families, etc. is one thing; what they can legitimately be named under the various Codes is a different matter. One botanist might, for example, take the species which another botanist considers all to be within the genus Rosa and group them differently, into, say, three genera. Then comes the issue of what to name the three genera. Now types are vital: the botanist isn't free to name the three genera whatever he or she likes; the genus name must be chosen based on the earliest name used for a type which will now fall into that genus. The name has nothing to do with the methods used to set up the groups.
Personally I think it's better to avoid using the verb "define" when applied to a taxon, since it can be ambiguous between naming and circumscribing.
The sentence you removed ("A distinction is made between synonyms which unambiguously refer to the same taxon (those having the same type on which its definition is based), and those where there is room for debate.") was there, I think, in an attempt to summarize the difference between homotypic/objective synonyms and heterotypic/subjective synonyms. Since this difference forms a significant part of the text of the article, some attempt to summarize it in the leading section is surely appropriate. On the other hand, I accept that this sentence doesn't quite work, and a replacement needs some thought. Peter coxhead (talk) 14:31, 20 October 2011 (UTC)
Surely this distinction belongs in the lead, not just an explanation of what synonyms are. The phrasing might have been poor, but don't see from the above how it was actually incorrect; can you suggest an alternative? —innotata 16:31, 20 October 2011 (UTC)
Yes, I agree that the distinction does belong in the lead. So what's the problem with this sentence: "A distinction is made between synonyms which unambiguously refer to the same taxon (those having the same type on which its definition is based), and those where there is room for debate"? I think it's the ambiguity of "definition" and the vagueness of "where there is room for debate". I'll try to write something today, but another problem is sourcing: it's not difficult to source either botanical or zoological uses, but I've found it difficult to source syntheses. Peter coxhead (talk) 08:08, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
BTW, can I point out that if a new combination NEVER (and this will need some good sources to show it, because it clearly seems to be so used at least informally) is a synonym of any type in zoology, that clarification REALLY belongs in the article? I think the issue is that in zoological nomenclature has the odd approach that a combination is NOT a name! It's a "placement", only the genus and the "specific epithet" are "names" proper (hence why combinations do not warrant authorship). Am I right? 'Cause I'm not going to try to decipher the ICZN to check on that, as it manages to be ten times abstruser than the ICBN. Circéus (talk) 04:37, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
You are right. This was discussed a lot on Taxacom and the section above actually was about it. See Shyamal (talk) 04:55, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
This points to an underlying problem of the lead section: trying to summarize in a clear but accurate way two legalistic codes which employ the term "synonym" significantly differently. I think that this should be said more prominently. Peter coxhead (talk) 08:08, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
I've now done some re-writing of the lead, including a paragraph which attempts to explain the removed sentence. Two points:
  • I entirely agree with Circéus that the ICZN is significantly more abstruse than the ICN (although the latter can't be called clear!). As a "plant person" I don't pretend to understand the ICZN, so those who do need to check what I've written.
  • The entire lead needs referencing.
Peter coxhead (talk) 08:44, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for the improvements and clarifications above; what we try to get to eventually in articles is few references in the lead of articles since everything should be discussed in the body. —innotata 15:36, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

I see a lot of discussion, and some good edits, and some not so good. I agrre that "Um... The leading section of an article should be used to summarize its content". However, this is a general statement of principle. And in no way does this lead to a coclusion that "so it's not the case the the article deals with "three separate topics" as you've written, so your final paragraph is not really relevant." By factual content the page deals with three different topics. Just denying facts does not make this different.

In no way am I confusing "circumscribing with naming". Defining a taxon is circumscribing a taxon, and this in itself has nothing to do with naming. Indeed, it is quite possible to defne/circumscribe a taxon without naming it (happens all the time).

As to if it is better to use "define" or "circumscribe" this is an impossible question. If the purpose is to accurately inform the reader you should not only use "circumscribe", but you should also adopt a lot of other appropriate terms, which will be strongly different for zoology and botany. This cannot be done without splitting the article. If the purpose is to give the reader just a general idea you should avoid specialized terminology and you should use "define". It is a matter of internal consistency.

The distinction does not belong in the lede, certainly not when it needs to be phrased so elaborately (at the moment it still is inaccurate) that it threatens to duplicate the actual text (in that case why not just say everything twice, once in the lede and once in the text?). Bluebell15 (talk) 13:44, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

It may well be that it's impossible to summarize the two codes accurately because of the difference in their terminology. But this is what the lead should do if both codes are dealt with in the same article. So I insist that the article does not deal with three topics; if it does, it's wrongly written and must be changed. The lead should not deal with anything which is not in the rest of the article.
It could be that the correct conclusion is that there can't be a single article, but I think this would be a pity for the general reader. Peter coxhead (talk) 14:58, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
Well, if this article does not deal with "synonym (taxonomy)" where is that topic dealt with? Wikipedia is full of wrongly written articles, so that is not an argument one way or the other. I would hazard that a lede is supposed to give an overview of the topic, rather than be a summary of the rest of the page. - Bluebell15 (talk) 15:17, 3 November 2011 (UTC)
See Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style/Lead_section: it's supposed to be a summary. Peter coxhead (talk) 18:34, 4 November 2011 (UTC)
I read "The lead serves as an introduction to the article and a summary of its most important aspects."
and "The lead should be able to stand alone as a concise overview. It should define the topic, establish context, ...."
which is ony sensible. If the lede is limited to what is in the article, the article is likely to be limited to what is in the lede, and the article won't go anywhere. - Bluebell15 (talk) 12:57, 8 November 2011 (UTC)

Further deletionEdit

It said "In the first case, there can be no dispute as to whether one name is a synonym of another." referring back to "as when a species is moved to a different genus". This is of course not true; in zoology it will be a synonym, but in botany it won't. This kind of statement is just there to confuse the reader. Bluebell15 (talk) 13:59, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

I'm not quite sure what you mean here. If the plant species X y is moved to genus Z, then X y is a synonym of Z y under the ICN so there can be no dispute about whether one name (X y) is a synonym of the other (Z y). Of course, in the ICZN they are both synonyms, but the sentence you removed didn't say that. Peter coxhead (talk) 15:19, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
But there can be a dispute of whether "Z y" is a synonym of "X y" ...

It also said "For example, names are attached to species using particular "type specimens": by default the name of the species is that of the earliest named specimen which is included in that species.[6][7] " This also is not true, and again why is it here, other than to confuse the reader? Bluebell15 (talk) 14:01, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

"If the same type specimen is given more than one name, then one must be a synonym of the other." It is just the other way about, names are based on type specimens (when type specimens are involved). Type specimens are not given names but collection numbers. Taxa are given names. Again a statement just there to confuse the reader. Bluebell15 (talk) 14:04, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

"One biologist may decide that two different type specimens actually belong in the same species; in which case the name given to one of the type specimens becomes a synonym of the other." The same. Bluebell15 (talk) 14:06, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

I'm happy to accept that my attempt to write a code-neutral account of the difference between what the ICZN calls objective and subjective synonyms wasn't quite right. I think, however, that it would have been better to try to improve it, rather than just delete it. I continue to believe that the general reader should be given an explanation of this important difference in less jargon-filled terms than in the two sections which follow the lead.
Are you opposed to any such attempt? If not, why not try to improve on what I wrote, which would be more constructive. To write, as you did, that text is there "to confuse the reader" is not helpful (and is a violation of WP:GOODFAITH). Peter coxhead (talk) 15:19, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
To make a comment about an item in the text is something different from making a comment about a user. However, GOODFAITH would not even forbid making a comment about a user (if it were called for); it is a GOODFAITH policy, not a BLINDFAITH policy.
You wrote that the text was "just there to confuse the reader" which implies that the purpose of the text was to confuse the reader. This is quite different from saying that the text is confusing to the reader. Anyway, I'll assume in WP:GOODFAITH that you meant the latter, so let's move on and try to improve the article. Peter coxhead (talk) 18:45, 4 November 2011 (UTC)
In almost all circumstances it is a bad idea to make a statement on more than one Code of nomenclature, as they are so different, even in such basic things as readability (as pointed out above). This even goes for the question if the word Code should be put in italics. In my judgement this page reads more like a "comparison of the term synonym in botany and zoology" than like "synonym (taxonomy)" than is really wise. - Bluebell15 (talk) 15:10, 3 November 2011 (UTC)
The problem if we can't make statements on more than one Code is that biologists who cross disciplines, like ecologists or people interested in natural history, use the term "synonym" in a way that's probably strictly wrong under all particular nomenclature codes but is nevertheless present in the scientific literature. It's frustrating that we don't seem to be able to explain it! Peter coxhead (talk) 18:37, 4 November 2011 (UTC)
I suppose this is just what I tried to get accross. There is a general use (among "biologists [...], ecologists or people interested in natural history", etc), which is different from that in the Codes. As I see it, we are not going to get anywhere unless there is a recognition that these are separate topics. It may be that they fit together on a single page, but it is necessary to accept that these are separate. Bluebell15 (talk) 13:06, 8 November 2011 (UTC)

Revision to leadEdit

Bluebell15, I'd be grateful if you could explain what is wrong with my edit that produced this: "The purpose of the codes of nomenclature is to ensure that if a taxon is assigned a particular circumscription, position and rank then it has only one correct scientific name. Alternatives to this name are its synonyms (botany) or junior synonyms (zoology)."

Reverting to this: "When a taxon is assigned a particular circumscription, position and rank there usually is only one correct name; when it is assigned a different circumscription, position and rank this will often result in a different correct name." is problematic for a variety of reasons.

  1. The purpose of the codes of nomenclature is to ensure that for a given circumscription, position and rank there is always only one correct name, not "usually".
  2. If a taxon is assigned a different rank this will always result in a name change of some kind; changing circumscription and position may or may not result in a name change; "often" there will be no name change for a change of circumscription or position.
  3. There can only be a "correct" name under a code of nomenclature; there is no absolute correct name – it's not like a scientific law, for example, which can be said to be correct or not independent of human-made rules. So I think it's important to mention the codes in relation to correctness.

It may or may not be a good idea to add this bit: "Alternatives to this name are its synonyms (botany) or junior synonyms (zoology)." to the lead; I'm not sure about this. Peter coxhead (talk) 16:57, 10 November 2011 (UTC)

You have to keep in mind that in making such pronouncements you are covering an enormous amount of ground. It is like claiming "In a democracy, a President can serve no more than two terms". Although that limitation would be a good idea, and indeed has been laid down in many a constitution, in practice it is not true of all democracies.
  • "#The purpose of the codes of nomenclature is to ensure that for a given circumscription, position and rank there is always only one correct name, not "usually". I am counting three or four exceptions easily, and this is probably not exhaustive.
  • "#If a taxon is assigned a different rank this will always result in a name change of some kind; ". I am counting a definite exception and two possible exceptions, again this is probably not exhaustive.
You are getting in a lot of trouble to make a statement that is not going to help the reader anyway. It is, of course, true that the concept of a "correct name" is not an easy one. A name is correct from a particular taxonomic viewpoint, and it is not at all rare to have more than one taxonomic viewpoint in existence at one particular moment. If you are looking at things from a historical perspective then there will be many more such viewpoints. In many cases it is dubious to make statements like "Xxxx is such-and-such a taxon"; as with so many other things context is everything. - Bluebell15 (talk) 13:19, 15 November 2011 (UTC)
  • Can you give examples of the exceptions to the statement that "for a given circumscription, position and rank there is always only one correct name", under the relevant code of course? The intention of the two main codes is declared to be that this should be the case.
  • Again, can you give examples of when a change in rank does not alter the name? Here, of course, I accept that there is a problem with what "name" means precisely, since this differs between codes. If the plant X y is demoted to X z subsp. y, then there is clearly a new name under the ICBN, but not in some interpretations of the ICZN. Was this what you meant?
Your last paragraph is of course absolutely correct, but this is a perspective which I think the article does not bring out, namely that the concept of a correct name depends utterly on a taxonomic perspective. I've argued precisely your last point at WT:PLANTS in the past, namely that we should always give a context to any statement of the kind that "Xaceae is a family of ..." or that "X is a genus of ...". I wanted (and still want) taxoboxes to state clearly the taxonomic system being used. Peter coxhead (talk) 16:16, 15 November 2011 (UTC)
No doubt I could give examples, but I don't quite see why I should or if there would be any point. The principle of Verifiability means that the author should support his statements where this is necessary. In the face of the given that it is almost impossible to make a detailed statement that is true across all the realms that are covered by one Nomenclature Code or other you nevertheless claim that your detailed statement is indeed true in all those realms. I would say that it is up to you to support that statement under all those Codes: if you check into it you will soon find that you cannot.
Yes, perhaps this page should bring out this point (that a correct name is relative) more explicitly, and some other pages should as well. Ideally, a taxobox refers to a standard classification (that is a standard classification existing outside Wikipedia, but followed by Wikipedia), in which case it is not necessary to be explicit everywhere (but it should be findable in an easily accessible place), but it would not hurt if a taxobox specified what classification it uses. In the text, context should always be given, except where there is no controversy, whatsoever. - Bluebell15 (talk) 13:37, 22 November 2011 (UTC)
When what you say isn't making sense to other people, it would be helpful if you gave examples. Nadiatalent (talk) 15:22, 22 November 2011 (UTC)
It is not so that what I say is not making sense (the "In general, for any taxon with a particular circumscription, position and rank only one scientific name is considered to be the correct one at any given time" is not contested), but that I am pointing out that a much more exacting statement, by Peter coxhead ("The purpose of the codes of nomenclature is to ensure that for a given circumscription, position and rank there is always only one correct name,"), is unbelievable on the face of it and is in fact not true. The Verifiability principle requires that this statement be corroborated.
I assume that any attempt to corroborate this would start with referring to Principle IV of the ICBN, in which case the last four words of the Principle should tell anybody that this is not going to hold water. Bluebell15 (talk) 14:33, 29 November 2011 (UTC)

"General usage" sectionEdit

I think the idea behind this section is an important addition to the article, but as it stands at present the section isn't sourced at all. I was rather hoping that User:Bluebell15 would have done a bit more work on the section, including adding some sources. I'll leave it for a while longer, but it will either need sourcing or tagging as needing to be sourced. It does need some copy-editing for English, which I will attempt. Peter coxhead (talk) 23:00, 26 November 2011 (UTC)

Thank you. I also think it is important, which is why I added it. As to sourcing this I don't really think that at this stage it needs to be sourced as it is a very generally accepted statement. This is supported by the fact that the "Oxford Dictionaries Online" accept this; dictionaries are not known for being very up-to-date in specialized areas, so if a dictionary has this it should be pretty well-known. Presumably there will be a lot of schoolbooks that also have this.
As to phrasing, it looks to me that the rephrasing has not necessarily led to an improvement in readability. Obviously I am not the best judge of my own text in this respect, so I am not reverting. I may try to re-rephrase this, or I may leave it to wait for somebody to come by with a happier hand for turning a phrase.
And, yes, it could be expanded, perhaps with some notorious cases? - Bluebell15 (talk) 14:45, 29 November 2011 (UTC)
I make no great claim to be good at writing for readability by the general reader (I'm too used to academic writing), so I'll be happy if a good copy-editor comes by. I just tried to correct a few errors in the English and to add a couple of points, plus a ref.
Precisely because it's important, I think we need to be sure that it strictly abides by all the relevant WP policies; I am happy to agree that it's "very generally accepted" but other editors may not be. I'd like to put in some specific examples of reliable sources which list synonyms in a general way (the IUCN Red List comes to mind). Peter coxhead (talk) 19:21, 29 November 2011 (UTC)

Split into two pages ...Edit

An idea that was suggested to me, and that I support, is that this page should be split into separate zoology and botany pages, so that the two can separately be reworded without the current huge difficulty that neither code makes sense to followers of the other. (The bacteriology and virus people currently aren't catered for anyway, so presumably they could catch up later.) The current title is unfortunate because taxonomy is not just about biology, there are taxonomies of soils and minerals, and I don' know what else. I'd like to make the split soon. Nadiatalent (talk) 13:00, 27 November 2011 (UTC)

I support a split if (and only if) there is still a short page which covers what is in the "General usage" section at present; in other words if there are three pages "Synonym (biology)", "Synonym (botany)" and "Synonym (zoology)" (not necessarily with these titles, although I prefer "Synonym (biology)" to "Synonym (taxonomy)"). What has been demonstrated, I believe beyond any reasonable doubt, is that it's impossible to write a proper lead section, i.e. which one both summarizes the rest of the article and which is accessible without the need to have understood the rest of the article. The present lead fails in a number of respects; one is that the example given in the first paragraph only applies to botany; changes of genus placement don't create synonyms in the full sense of the definition in the ICZN, whereas the paragraph carries the implication that this example is universally true. Peter coxhead (talk) 14:19, 28 November 2011 (UTC)
So perhaps the first thing to do is to fix that example, and then rename this page and spin off two more pages, then start on the (massive) task of fixing all the incoming links. I'm not qualified to rewrite that example to fit a general biology page. Nadiatalent (talk) 16:49, 28 November 2011 (UTC)
Um... In view of the massive number of links, I think that splitting requires a broader consensus than you and me, however right we are :-). Maybe it should be raised at WT:TOL? If there's agreement, those links which are generated from taxoboxes can be changed automatically I think: the taxobox template 'knows' the top level group (which is used to determine the colour used in the box for example), so the correct link can be created, BUT this does raise the issue of the groups not covered by the two main codes – some link would be needed for them. Peter coxhead (talk) 20:08, 28 November 2011 (UTC)
Obviously I am in favour of a split, as the present page gives me a headache forcing me to think across several worlds. It looks to me that the incoming links should almost all go to the general page ("Synonym (biology)" / "Synonym (taxonomy)" or whatever), as most usages will be in the general sense, names that used to be correct and widely accepted, but are no longer so. There will be relatively few pages that really need to refer to the exact usage in a particular Code of nomenclature. - Bluebell15 (talk) 14:53, 29 November 2011 (UTC)


This is not a good edit, and this is worse. Rec. 50A of the ICBN leaves no doubt that a synonym need not be validly published, nor does Art. 34.1(c). The latter is also very clear that "listing synonyms does not validate them" (major point in botanical nomenclature). Manuscript names are not invalid, not technically; they are not validly published, or in other words they are not names in the sense of the ICBN (it might not hurt to create a new entry on "manuscript name", emphasizing their unofficial status). In addition you are leaving out a category of names. But as I said there is not really any point mentioning illegitimate names here, and this is borne out by these edits. It just gets more confused! - Bluebell15 (talk) 15:12, 29 November 2011 (UTC)

To clarify: A synonym is ANY sort of name, including provisional designations and misapplied ("sensu") names. The ICBN defines hetero- and homotypic synonyms (impliedly as validly published) simply for the sake of simplifying its inner working. However, bluebell, I disagree about "Manuscript names are not invalid, not technically; they are not validly published". I think for the sake of simplicity, we can say that "invalid" and "not validly published" mean the same thing (after all "valid" is commonly used for "validly published"), the latter is simply clearer and the term used by the code. Circéus (talk) 23:52, 29 November 2011 (UTC)
I think some of the problems we are having are due to mixing up different issues. There are different usages which could be explained in the article:
  1. How the term is used generally, by non-specialists and general biologists. The new section "General usage" is a start, but needs expanding.
  2. What the precise meaning of the term is under the relevant codes.
  3. How the term is used in practice by zoologists, botanists, etc. (who believe they are following the relevant code, but may not be).
If it's not made clear which of these three is being discussed, we end up apparently at cross-purposes when there is no real disagreement (as I think has happened to Bluebell15 and me); equally we may appear to agree when we don't.
Discussing the term "invalid" is a good example of this problem. In context (2) the Vienna Code is clear in the Preface that "it is convenient that neither 'valid name' nor 'invalid name' need be used in botanical nomenclature: either a name is validly published or else it is not a validly published name, i.e. not a name under the Code." So in context (2) I would avoid all use of the adjectives "valid" and "invalid". However, in context (3) it's clear that some botanists do use "invalid" to mean "not validly published".
I think the article needs some more restructuring to reflect this variety of usage. The new "General usage" section is a good start on context (1). Then the sections on the specific codes could each have two subsections, one on the precise meaning under the code and the other on how biologists of that specialism in practice use the term.
I ask Bluebell15 to note that how he writes here appears very aggressive at times and does not help to achieve consensus, whether or not his points are correct. Let's all try to assume good faith. Peter coxhead (talk) 09:21, 30 November 2011 (UTC)
I agree that context is everything. In the context of formal botanical/zoological nomenclature it is important to strictly follow the relevant Code, and this is relatively easy as usage is indeed strictly laid down in those Codes (of course, it helps very much to keep botany and zoology quite separate as the Codes are so different).
Indeed there is also informal usage, but this is much harder to source. For instance there are zoologists who will describe a name as invalid when they mean that the name is not available. And of course, it would be very dangerous to assume the existence of "The zoologist". What may be common usage to those engaged with butterflies may be weird to malacologists, etc. To be able to do something useful here will likely require an extensive search through a quite considerable amount of literature.
If you take "consensus" to be something that leaves out of consideration if something is correct or not, then probably your "consensus" is not a good thing? - Bluebell15 (talk) 14:29, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
"Verifiability not truth" is not a slogan I'm entirely comfortable with, but I stand by the points I made above: we should reflect verifiable use even if it is incorrect under the various codes. However, we can and should say whether or not common usages are correct under the codes, provided this is also verifiable. An example I think should be in the article is that for both plants and animals, names at the species level and names at the subspecies level are regularly treated as synonyms, where this is demonstrably correct in ICBN but not in the ICZN. Peter coxhead (talk) 16:49, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
I rather like "Verifiability not truth" as Truth is only an easy term when applied to personal statements ("I saw the burglar running from the house, and I recognize him as the burglar"). The more persons are involved the more Truth will hold an element of belief ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, ....").
The formal contents of the Codes are easiest verified (although not that easy); informal usage will be much harder to verify, especially for the more specialized terms or in the morre specialized fields. A thought-provoking example of informal usage is this; obviously this is not exactly correct under the zoological Code (see this use as here described under general usage), but as this is a highly respected databas usage will not be too far from the spirit of the Code. But see: 1 valid name, 3 senior synonyms and 2 junior synonyms for this species. No doubt this is just the tip of the iceberg. - Bluebell15 (talk) 13:51, 20 December 2011 (UTC)
Fishbase does not differ much from Wikipedia in that it is not a reliable site for potentially correct usage of the term "synonym" in zoology. Fishbase is a web service provided by experts in biodiversity informatics, they took their nomenclatural information largely from Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes (and this is where its reputation in terms of nomenclatural correctness originated). The term "new combination" at the same site is not in line with the definition of this term in the ICZN Code either. The assumption that usage of such terms in this kind of databases (FishBase, Catalogue of Life) is not far from the spirit of the Code is unsubstantiated and incorrect. -- FranciscoWelterSchultes (talk) 01:09, 22 December 2011 (UTC)
Yes, that was the point. Any attempt at establishing informal usage in zoology will be an uphill affair (and is likely to hit the OR barrier). As to the difference between Fishbase and the Catalog of Fishes, yes, these are not the same but even the Catalog of Fishes is not strictly formal (see the corresponding page in Catalog of Fishes). - Bluebell15 (talk) 14:19, 10 January 2012 (UTC)

Still problemsEdit

It's clear that there are still problems with this article, caused by the points made above, in particular the differences between:

  • the formal definition in the ICZN
  • the formal definition in the ICN
  • actual usage by biologists of names to which the ICZN applies
  • actual usage by botanists of names to which the ICN applies

It's not clear to me what the answer is, other than to stress the need to define the context at every step. Peter coxhead (talk) 09:52, 4 February 2017 (UTC)

Agreed, however if nobody has better text to suggest, I am generally happy that the article does state the correct situation as used "in practice". I have added a bit more info as well based on my own experience to date, also will add a few more sourced examples. Regards - Tony Tony 1212 (talk) 04:26, 31 January 2019 (UTC)

Recent changesEdit

A recent edit made some changes which are, I think, an improvement to the wording, but also added "Taxonomic synonyms are never interchangable, rather describing importantly different relationships." This isn't correct, so I reverted the edit pending discussion.

Two taxonomists may have described the same species independently within the same genus. The two names do not describe any different relationships. They are interchangeable in terms of the taxon they refer to, since name which is correct depends on determining the precise priority, which with old works is not a trivial task. A species can have been known by one name for a long time, before it is determined that another name has priority. There are multiple plant cases where the earliest name was in publications that were not widely read. Thus Scilla tubergeniana was published by Hoog in 1936 as a new species, based on garden cultivation. It later transpired that it had been described in Russian by Grossheim in 1927 as Scilla mischtschenkoana. The two names are heterotypic synonyms, but you can't say that they describe "importantly different relationships". To add to the mix, there's an alternative transcription of the name into the Latin alphabet, Scilla miczenkoana, which arises because Miczenko is a common transcription of the name of the person that the epithet honours. This is usually treated as an orthographic variant, which is a kind of synonym. Peter coxhead (talk) 07:22, 19 May 2020 (UTC)

Tangentially, do any of the codes say anything about names published in non-Latin scripts? I would have expected that actual names would have been written in the Latin alphabet regardless of the script of the text, but it is conceivable that names could have been publish in Cyrillic or Greek, or something even less consistently transliterated.
@Lavateraguy: well, the ICNafp has changed over the years, but it has always required a name to be written in the Latin alphabet, although authors did often use capitals and diacritics that now have to be changed (e.g. ü to ue). Art. 60.9 says "When changes in spelling by authors who adopt personal, geographical, or vernacular names in nomenclature are intentional latinizations, they are to be preserved" with some minor exceptions. I have in the past unsuccessfully tried to find the original description of Scilla mischtschenkoana online (it's a plant I grow – bought as S. tubergeniana – and the first scilla to flower each year in my garden). So I'm pretty sure it can't be "corrected" to miczenkoana even if the person's name was transcribed or written as "Miczeno". But I'd still like to see the original. Peter coxhead (talk) 08:43, 19 May 2020 (UTC)
Under the ICN nomenclatural synonyms often represent different interpretations of relationships, but may represent no more than whether an author is a lumper or a splitter, or be a result of independent description of the assigned genus. Lavateraguy (talk) 07:46, 19 May 2020 (UTC)
@Lavateraguy: exactly. They may represent no difference in relationships, a minor difference in relationships (e.g. whether two subgenera should be treated as two genera), or an important difference in relationship (e.g. moving a species that turns out to be nested inside another genus in a phylogenetic study to another genus). What you can't say is that synonyms always describe "importantly different relationships". Peter coxhead (talk) 08:43, 19 May 2020 (UTC)