Codes of Nomenclature


Codes of Nomenclature are the agreed conventions for naming biological groups. The various Codes define the rules for constructing the names of biological entities. Different organisations within the The International Council for Science (ICSU) control the individual Codes for zoology, botany, prokaryotes (bacteria and archea) and viruses. With the single exception of viruses, the Codes allow for competing taxonomies. In the other Codes, the competition arises because no judicial systems exist for choosing among the competitors. Only usage dictates the winners. Some organism groups are redundant in coverage between Codes. The Codes differ in defining examples of organism deposit and availability as benchmarks for species. Other codes have been proposed, such as Biocode (treat rationalisation of the ICSU recognised Codes) and PhyloCode (basing the code on phylogenetic criteria).

Key Concepts:

  • An inherent tension exists between stability of names and changes resulting from further study.

  • The various rules of nomenclature define the construction of the names of species, albeit somewhat differently in details.

  • With the exception of viruses, benchmark examples (Types, Type Specimens, Type Cultures, Type Descriptions, etc.) are required to allow for species comparison and identification.

  • The published description of a new taxon rarely, if ever, indicates the boundaries of the taxon.

  • Taxonomies function as useful indexing systems to locate members in biological space and are not absolute.

  • Both among and within taxa at all levels new information causes changes in views of the centres and borders of taxa.

Keywords: nomenclature; codes; taxon; names; type deposition

Figure 1.

The Internet contact information links to the most current versions of the Codes, decisions on nomenclature, information on the history and administration of the Codes and other relevant information. The official printed versions of the Codes are necessarily out of date as of the publication in that they obviously cannot contain changes post‐printing. The printed versions are listed in the References.



BIOSIS, 2 Commerce Square, 2001 Market Street, Suite 700, Philadelphia, PA 19103‐7095, USA.

Brickell CD, Baum BR, Hetterscheid WLA et al. (eds) (2004) International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, 7th edn, pp. xx+123 pp. Acta Horticulturae, 647. Leuven, Belgium: International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS).

Greuter W, Hawksworth DL, McNeill J et al. (1998) Draft BioCode (1997): the prospective international rules for the scientific names of organisms. Taxon 47: 127–150.

Greuter W, McNeill J, Barrie R et al. (2000) International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (St Louis Code). Regnum Vegetabile 138. Königstein: Koeltz Scientific Books.

ICZN, c/o The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK (e‐mail:

van Regenmortel MHV, Fauquet CM, Bishop DHL et al. (2000) Virus Taxonomy: The Classification and Nomenclature of Viruses. The Seventh Report of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Virus Taxonomy, VIIth Report of the ICTV, p. 1167. San Diego: Academic Press.

Sneath PHA (1992) International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria: Bacteriological Code, 1990 (Revision 232 pages). Washington, DC: ASM Press.

Further Reading

Büchen‐Osmond C (2003) Taxonomy and classification of viruses. In: Manual of Clinical Microbiology, 8th edn, vol. 2, pp. 1217–1226. Washington, DC: ASM Press.

Garrity G, Boone DR and Castenholz RW (eds) (2001) The Archaea and the deeply branching and phototropic bacteria. In: Bergey's Manual Systematic Bacteriology, 2nd edn, vol. 1, pp. 83–100. New York: Springer.

Gledhill D (2002) The Names of Plants, 3rd edn, p. 336. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univesity Press.

Isaak M (2004) Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature.∼misaak/taxonomy.html

Krichevsky MI (2004) Taxonomy: a moving target for sequence data in database in annotation. In: Lesk AM (ed.) Molecular Biology: Principles and Practice. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Reveal JL (ed.) (1996) Proceedings of a Mini‐Symposium on Biological Nomenclature in the 21st Century. 4 November, University of Maryland.

Species 2000

Thompson FC (1997) Names: the keys to biodiversity. In: Reaka‐Kudla ML, Wilson DE and Wilson EO (eds) Biodiversity II: Understanding and Protecting Our Biological Resources, chap. 13, pp. 197–212. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press (National Academies Press).

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Krichevsky, Micah I(Apr 2012) Codes of Nomenclature. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000452.pub2]