italicized latin names

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Thu Apr 4 15:20:03 CST 1996

On April 4, Alfred Newton wrote:

>     I don't know the historical reasons for the convention that only
>generic and specific names are italicized as recommended in the
>Zoological Code, but can think of a rational reason:  Names of genera
>and higher taxa are single words of Latin or Greek origin (or
>appearance) starting with a capital letter and referring to groups of
>species.  Thus, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish one from
>the other type in text, and the convention of italicizing only
>generic names (along with species names) eliminates any ambiguity.

This was in response to Alan Harvey's query and my reply regarding the
usage in the ICBN.  In fact, as the text appended to my earlier
message noted, the reason that the editors of the ICBN decided to
italicize ALL scientific names was exactly that quoted by Alfred
Newton above, namely to distinguish between a scintific name such as
Uredinales and an English language appellation such as Fungi - an
appellation that had once been a scientific name but which in the Code
was being used in a popular, but still informative, sense.

John McNeill

From: John McNeill, Director, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen's Park,
      Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6, Canada.
      Tel.: 416-586-5639      Fax: 416-586-8044
      e-mail: johnm at

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