names vs. "names" (was: Names for BioDiv Informatics)

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Fri Feb 4 10:13:45 CST 2005

> Unavailable names are, in addition, a wide field with unclear border zone.
> E.g., in the first editions of websites sponsored by GBIF seed
> money I found
> several "new" misspellings of names that did not occur before
> (Togonus instead
> of Pogonus, etc). Such errors will probably disappear when
> specialists review
> the content. But the question is:
> do such names have to be indexed/ tracked in names databanks?

This is a question I've thought about myself quite a bit, and I have the
same concerns as you.  The widest scope of "names" would be something
roughly described as "text or symbols intended to represent organisms".  A
much more refined scope would be "names established in compliance with one
of the major Codes of biological Nomenclature" (i.e., "Code-compliant,
available names").  But between these two points is a large swath of
fuzziness, without unambiguous demarcations (I define "unambiguous" here in
a somewhat loose sense -- to the same degree that it is more or less
"unambiguous" whether a name is Code-compliant; acknowledging that not all
of the Codes are perfect, and examples in this realm involving ambiguity do

Several parameters can be applied to individual "name" examples in this
fuzzy zone:  What character set is it represented in? What language? In what
sort of context was it used? Is it a scientific name, or a vernacular name?

The question is, if the scope of a database of "names" extends beyond the
strict "Code-compliant, available names" realm (as I believe it should),
then how does one define the "border zone"?  Different projects draw lines
at different places. I tend to draw the line based on the answer to these
two questions: 1) Was it "intended" as a Linnean-style scientific name?; 2)
Did it appear in a published work (as defined by the relevant Code)?  Both
of these questions can, in most cases, be answered with almost as little
ambiguity as there is in determining whether a name is "Code-compliant".
Names that exist only on a website (or personal communication), therefore,
would not fall within the scope.  Neither would names that appear only in
"unpublished" (sensu Codes) documents.  The most substantial grey zone for
me is names that appear on specimen labels in major Museums that have been
designated as "Types", but which never actually were published.  A similar
grey zone exists for "scientific" manuscripts that were never published.
Clearly these names fall outside the scope as I defined it, but (especially
for the specimen labels examples) they need to be tracked by the sorts of
people would would be primary users of a universal scientific name index
(i.e., museum curators and collections managers).

There also exists a sometimes ambiguous distinction of whether the name is
really a "different" name; or merely an alternate (intentional or not)
spelling of an existing name?

> Yes, checking names for Code-compliancy is a time-consuming
> process but not
> necessarily slow if support is given to those you are doing the
> job. Even if it
> has to be a work in progress, for some time, I think that names
> and "names"
> should be  flagged whereever such information is available, - not
> forgetting
> the new options for partial Lists of Available Names in Zoology (Art.79 of
> ICZN-4).

I agree -- which is why I think there is a perfect opportunity to unite the
broad-scope name indexing efforts (like uBio), with the more refined name
indexing efforts (e.g., a prototype nomenclatural registration system for
available names).  The latter can be clearly recognized as a subset of the
former, and both sorts of efforts would benefit if the underlying data base
was the same.


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