Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Sep 4 12:57:05 CDT 2003

> Inclusion of the names that are not synonyms but misidentifications
> or disagreed-with synonymies can be difficult to interpret.  Keeping
> synonymies to the bare bones of 'true' synonyms has merit.

Out of curiosity, and mostly because I'm trying to pin down the various
fundamentally different ways that taxon names can be applied and/or
mis-applied, I was wondering if you (or anyone else on the list) could
elaborate on the difference between "true" synonymns, and the "other kind"
(whatever that is...."false" synonyms???)

Now... to me, the only "true" synonym is an objective synonym (i.e.,
Code-specified cases of objective synonyms, such as two names based on the
same primary type, replacement names & emendations, etc.).  All others are
ultimately "subjective" synonyms.  Granted, some subjective synonyms are
more subjective than others (i.e., in some cases there is debate in current
literature, whereas in other cases names have gone unused as valid for
decades or even centuries) -- but I don't see this as a fundamental
distinction.  I don't think there is a clear bi-modal distribution of
synonym names between those that everyone agrees are synonyms vs. those that
are still debated; rather, I think there is a pretty steady transition, and
therefore no fundamental distinction between alternate types of subjective

Some might argue that cases where one name has been proposed for the male
(or juvenile/larval) form of a sexually (or ontogenetically) dimorphic
species, and another name assigned to female (or adult) form represent a
fundamentally more "objective" synonym than the run-of-the-mill lumper vs.
splitter debates; but fundamentally I still see such cases as being
subjective synonomies.

In my mind, except in cases of Code-specified objective synonyms, when a
person asserts that species 'A' is a junior synonym of species 'B', the real
assertion being made is:

"The primary type specimen of species 'A' is conspecific with the primary
type specimen of species 'B', and the name 'B' has priority over the name
'A' according to the relevant Code rules."

Thus, subjective synonyms are about establishing boundaries between species
concepts. In the dimorphic male/female example, there is always the
possibility that two "cryptic" species are involved, and that the male came
from one population and the female from another (i.e., a future taxonomist
might subjectively assert that the two primary types belong to separate

Besides the two fundamental types of synonyms (Code-defined objective
synonyms, and species-concept-asserted subjective synonyms), there is the
issue of misidentifications.  To me, the definition of a misidentification
is the application by a person (Determiner) of a taxon name to a specimen
that the Determiner would not deem to be conspecific with the primary type
specimen of the applied name.  Re-stated in English, the identified specimen
shares a closer kinship with the primary type specimen of another taxon name
(which the Determiner would deem to be a valid/accepted name), than to the
primary type specimen of the name that the Determiner applied to the
identified specimen (not sure that was any easier to understand....)

My question to this list is:

Can all applications and mis-applications of taxon names fall into one of
these three fundamental categories (objective synonym, subjective synonym,
misidentification)?  Or, are there other fundamentally different ways that
names can be applied (correctly or incorrectly)?  I vaugely remeber a brief
debate that Jim Croft and I had on this list a while back, where we
ultimately decided that we were talking about fundamentally different kinds
of "misidentifications" -- but for the life of me I cannot remember what the
alternative types of misidentifications were (I did a quick scan of the
archives, but didn't find the thread).

Thoughts? Comments?


P.S. The reason I'm trying to get this sorted out is that I happen to be
working on the section of my taxonomic data model that deals with the
assignment  of taxon names to biological entites.

Richard L. Pyle
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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