binomial nomenclature

Mark Garland MAGarland at AOL.COM
Sun Mar 19 18:36:03 CST 1995

More ruminations on nomenclature.  Sorry.  Too much free time.

It seems to me that the central problem in this debate is the interesection
of nomenclature and
classification in species names.  All naming is classification, as I think
Dr. Reveal said, but binomials
are especially blatant because they contain within themselves the name of a
more inclusive group to
which they belong (genus).

Maybe we need to recognize that the genus (or the smallest group that
deserves a uninomial) is the
fundamental unit of *nomenclature*, while the species is more important
biologically.  The names of
species, in other words, don't have to reflect any scientific insight into
relationships.  They don't
necessarily have to be binomials.  They should only be unique, unambiguous,
and--stay the same as
much as humanly possible.

Some suggestions:

(1) Keep binomials, just to indicate that you're talking about species
(whatever they are).

(2) Use the earliest binomial for every species, no matter what genus it's
now in.  If you conserve a
species name, use that binomial in any genus you put the species in.  You'll
wind up with genera
having species with all sorts of generic names in their binomials.  So what?

(3) When you name a new species, make a unique binomial by combining the name
of the genus you
think it belongs in with an epithet unique in that genus.

I was led to these ideas by thinking about folk taxonomy.  Just because we
call something a starfish
doesn't mean we think it's a vertebrate (although now it seems you're
supposed to call it a sea star--a
transfer from fish to astronomical object?).  In the same way, just because
we might call something
Felis leo wouldn't mean it would belong in the genus Felis.  In short:
disconnect the binomial from the

This might be confusing at first, but people could, with years of expensive
education, learn that the
generic part of a binomial doesn't mean anything!  This system would provide
unique names, familiar
names (in most cases), and stable names.  Many of the names would be
historic, for those who like the
ancient connotations of many binomials.  Who could ask for anything more?

Mark Garland
Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection
3900 Commonwealth Blvd., Mail Station 140
Tallahassee, FL  32399

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