[Taxacom] Objective synonyms?

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sun May 30 19:22:10 CDT 2010

Thanks Francisco for yet another idiosyncratic take on the ICZN Code! It is not so easy to extract the important points from the rather extensive commentary, but if I understand correctly:

(1) [this may come as a BIG SHOCK to the bioinformatics people, but] Panthera uncia,  Uncia uncia and Felis uncia are all the same name!

(2) these three different "things" (names???) are neither (objective) synonyms nor homotypic, because only Felis uncia has a type! 

Gosh!!!! And Geoff thought my interpretation of the ICZN was radical!


From: Francisco Welter-Schultes <fwelter at gwdg.de>
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Mon, 31 May, 2010 12:02:23 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Objective synonyms?

The problem that was raised in the Wikipedia posting concerned originally
zoological names.
I only refer to names under the ICZN Code here. It is my understanding
that in all language versions Wikipedia intends to apply nomenclatural
terms (for the taxobox) as used and defined by the ICZN Code for the
scientific zoological names.

I am responding to statements by Curtis Clark, Gary Rosenberg and Kim van
der Linde.

I recommend to consult again Thomas Pape's comment to this discussion.
This was an important comment. I do not always agree with his
interpretation of the Code, but in most cases yes, and in this case
entirely. In most such cases Thomas finds the keys to the answers very
quickly. It is worth reading again what he wrote.

In contrast to Curtis' last statement

> The Code has nothing to say beyond a glossary definition that can be
> interpreted in different ways

, I think that the ICZN Code definition is absolutely clear in its
definition of objective synonymy, and in this detail I agree entirely with
Thomas Pape:
"the objectivity relates to one and the same exemplar or individual
being the name-bearing type"

This was the key sentence. The ongoing discussion can only be explained by
contributors not having understood what this meant.

I am surprised about Gary Rosenberg's interpretation of the Code, for
which I see no written base:

> Uncia uncia and Panthera uncia are both species names. They are different
> names, they have the same rank and the same type, so they are objective
> synonyms.

1. I find no support in the ICZN Code to define these as two different
names. I can also say it is the same name, in different combinations. The
ICZN Code rules nomenclature and I would be careful to apply it for
taxonomical issues, for which the Code gives no clear instructions.

2. Neither Uncia uncia nor Panthera uncia has a type under the Code, only
the nominal taxon Felis uncia [Schreber, 1776] can have types. The term
"objective synonym" as used and defined in the ICZN Code is restricted to
nominal taxa. Under the ICZN Code this term cannot be used for species

ICZN Code: Glossary: objective synonym:
Each of two or more synonyms that denote nominal taxa with the same
name-bearing type, or (in the cases of family-group and genus-group taxa)
that denote nominal taxa with name-bearing types whose own names are
themselves objectively synonymous.

Gary I cite you again:
> Canis familiaris is a species name and Canis lupus familiaris is a
> subspecies name; they are different names, have the same type, but
> not the same rank, so they are not objective synonyms.

Also here the same problem: mixup of "name" and "nominal taxon" - only a
nominal taxon can have types. Only the nominal taxon Canis familiaris
Linnæus, 1758 can have types. Canis familiaris and Canis lupus familiaris
as species and subspecies names refer to the same and only one nominal

Let me complete commenting also your last statement:

> but not the same rank, so they are not objective synonyms. (In the former,
> "familiaris" is a specific name but in the later it is a subspecific
name, > but it is still the same name, so not an objective synonym
> as only one name is involved

Just to make it clear: a nominal taxon originally established as a
specific name can be an objective synonym of another nominal taxon
originally established as a subspecific name, given that both are based on
the same name-bearing type.

Now I come to Kim's statements.

> the original name was Panthera uncia
(from your Wikipedia posting, 20:46, 29 May 2010 (UTC))

I would say this statement was incorrect.
The snow leopard was established as Felix Vncia, corrected original
spelling Felis uncia, by Schreber (name of the author was not given on the
title page of the work) in 1776 (date when plate C [= 100] appeared,
following Sherborn 1902) (the name Felix Vncia was written on the plate,
combined with the beautiful figure this made the name available).

In the page scrollbox scroll down to page 63 : C, this is the original
description of the snow leopard.

So I would say the orignal name was Felis uncia [Schreber], 1776.

The "synonym" Panthera uncia Schreber, 1775 as given in the English
Wikipedia page
is nomenclaturally incorrect for 3 reasons: genus incorrect, year
incorrect, application of the term "synonym" incorrect.

Your posting on Taxacom:

> An example of an objective synonym is the tarpan (the European wild
> horse) which was described by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1774.

Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin. Gave a description, without scientific name.

For your information:
Erxleben 1777 established a name Equus asinus ferus, for the onager (= the
wild Asian ass). This preoccupies most probably the name ferus in the
genus Equus. I would change the Wikipedia pages which mention Equus ferus
as the name for the tarpan, and use the next available synonym for the
wild horse.

> In 1784 Pieter Boddaert named the tarpan Equus ferus, referring to
> Gmelin's description.

And to Pallas, and to Pennant. And Boddaert also gave his own description.
True year was probably 1785, although Dec 1784 was printed on p. VI.

> Unaware of Boddaert's name, Otto Antonius published the
> name Equus gmelini in 1912, again referring to Gmelin's description.
> Since the two names refer to the same description, they are objective
> synonyms.

This statement is incorrect. Many zoologists make this mistake.

The only two reasons why they would be objective synonyms would be (1)
"because they are based on one and the same single type specimen", and (2)
"because Antonius established that name expressly as a new replacement
name for Boddaert's name".
Your words strongly suggest that E. gmelini was published as a regular new
name, not as a new replacement name, and I also assume that since the
identity of the wild horse has been clear, lectotypes have not been

Even if Antonius 1912 gave a statement "shall refer to exactly the same
animal as described by Gmelin 1774", this would not be an objective
synyonym. Why? Because Boddaert 1785 had based his name on various
different type specimens. He referred to various different sources - all
the animals behind all those 4 descriptions (Gmelin's, Pennant's, Pallas'
and Boddaert's) were the syntypes of Boddaert's name.

If a name is based on various type specimens, it cannot be an objective
synonym of another regularly established name. This works only if both
have one and the same single type specimen.

To explain this more simply:
If name 1 is based on type specimens A and B, and name 2 on the same type
specimens A and B - then an author could select as lectotype for name 1
syntype A, and for name 2 syntype B, and specimens A and B could belong to
different species - hence no objective synonymy.

So Kim, most synonyms are subjective, and even more than one may suspect.

I would either establish a Wikipedia page for Equus gmelini - and redirect
that to the wild horse page. Or I would make clear in the synonyms box
that E. gmelini is currently accepted by most authors as a subjective
synonym of whatever name the wild horse should carry.

University of Goettingen, Germany


Taxacom Mailing List
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

The Taxacom archive going back to 1992 may be searched with either of these methods:

(1) http://taxacom.markmail.org

Or (2) a Google search specified as:  site:mailman.nhm.ku.edu/pipermail/taxacom  your search terms here


More information about the Taxacom mailing list