italicized latin names

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Tue Apr 9 08:09:18 CDT 1996

On April 9, Patricia Guadalupe Nuqez Perez wrote:

>can someone tell me , in Botany, what taxon have to be italized .
>because I have some real problems, in diferent countries,  I dont know
>who has the right answer..I supose that an international
>organization, moderate this things..  Thanks

There is no single right answer - cf. the e-mail reply that I sent ot
Alan Harvey recently and that I thought I had already posted on the
TAXACOM listserver.  (It follows - apologies to those who have already
read it).

What is true is that in almost all linguistic traditions, at least the
scientific names of genera and species (which, of course, include the
generic name) are set apart in some way from the other text - commonly
in italic in English-speaking countries, but with braces <<   >> or in
caps and small caps in other linguistic traditions.

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

Subject: italicized latin names
------------------------------- Message Contents -------------------------------
On April 4, Alan Harvey wrote:

>I've been asked by our publications department (popular press) why
>generic and specific scientific names are italicized/underlined, but
>not any of the higher ranks.  To be truthful, I'd never really given
>it much thought.  The Z-Code recommends this arrangement, but doesn't
>give the underlying rationale.  Anyone know the story/history behind
>this (he asks, hoping the answer's not pitifully obvious)?

So far as I can tell there is no rational reason for this North
American editorial convention.  British practice has recently tended
to establish the same convention, but in the 'sixties and 'seventies,
most publishing houses italicized family names also.

I would refer you to the third paragraph on p. xii of the
International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (the "Tokyo Code"), 1994
(see below).  Here the history of italicizing in the ICBN is outlined
and the reason for italicizing ALL scientific names used in the ICBN
is explained.

>From the Preface to the ICBN (Tokyo Code) 1994:

The method by which some or all scientific names are set off in
printed text varies substantially between different countries and
language traditions.  Perhaps as a result, there has been an
unevenness in this regard in different editions of the Code.  In an
attempt to achieve uniformity within the Code, the Sydney Code and the
Berlin Code italicized all scientific names at the rank of family and
below, i.e. those for which priority is mandatory.  The present
Editorial Committee recognized that this arrangement was rather
illogical, and, in the Tokyo Code, all scientific names falling under
the provisions of the Code are italicized, whereas informal
designations appear in Roman type.  For example, in Art. 13.1 (d) the
ordinal names Uredinales, Ustilaginales, etc. are italicized, whereas
the informal group name "fungi" is not.  The Editorial Committee
considers this to be the most appropriate presentation in a code of
nomenclature but does not aim to impose this as a standard to be
followed in other publications, which may have different editorial
traditions, often of long standing.

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