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

Mark at Mark at
Wed Feb 9 11:43:49 CST 2005

We would like to whole heartedly endorse the comments propounded by Dave
Remsen (names vs. "names" etc.) addressing the need to clearly recognise the
distinction between names and taxon concepts (classification), and to keep
them separate within taxonomic database systems. However, we would suggest
that Dave renames his Taxonomic Name Service (TNS) to something like
Taxonomic Concept Service - clarity of language leads to clarity of thought.

For a number of years now we, as part of the development team of the
Prometheus Taxonomic Model (Taxon 49: 55-75 [2000]), have been advocating
the necessity of a clear distinction between nomenclature and taxonomy.
After all, at least for the botanical code, this is one of the clear
intentions of the ICBN (see Jorgensen, Taxon 49: 779 [2000]). We are
currently developing a revised Prometheus model designed to better support
the work of floristic taxonomists (the original Prometheus model
concentrated mainly on a monographic approach), and in this we are
implementing a three layer model similar to that described by Dave Remsen.

At the lowest level we have working names - these are names with no
nomenclatural status created to allow taxonomic experimentation, but also
can be used for vernacular names.

In the middle we have nomenclature - covering published names, publication
details, validly, legitimacy, typification, etc.

On the top we have taxonomy in which classifications are created by forming
relationships between names.

Names are common to all users of the system – i.e. once a name is in, it
need never be re-entered. Multiple classifications can, however, exist and
it is intended that each project created within the system will be able to
develop its own taxonomy.

Although Dave has put the case for why this separation is a good idea, it
probably does no harm to reiterate and expand upon this. By clearly
separating fact from opinion (i.e. names from taxon concepts) we remove the
second taxonomic impediment. We tried hard at the Lisbon TDWG taxonomic
names meeting to push for the development of a separate nomenclatural
standard upon which the taxon/concepts standard could be built. This
suggestion was not however adopted even though such a names standard would
be relatively light weight, quick to develop and could be rapidly produced
using existing sources of nomenclatural information (for botany the
International Plant Name Index is the obvious choice) as a basis. The names
standard (except for homotypic synonyms) would contain no indication of
synonymy. If centralised such a system would in effect create a system for
the registration of names but without the politically difficult issue of
assigning status to any taxon concepts associated with the names.

Indeed it would probably benefit the designers of taxonomic schemas to
separate homotypic and heterotypic synonymy in their models. This is the
approach we are taking while implementing a revised version of Prometheus.
When constructing a classification only taxonomic synonyms can be asserted.
Homotypic synonymy is handled in the nomenclatural side. Again we can look
back at the distinction between fact and opinion. Homotypic synonyms are
nomenclatural fact as they remain in existence for all time. Taxonomic
synonyms are matters of opinion and come ago go as taxonomic whim dictates.

Martin Pullan and Mark Watson
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 20a Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR, U.K.
Tel: +44 (0)131 248 2828 Fax: +44 (0)131 248 2901
RBGE website:
Prometheus website:

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