How to … Conserve a name

Sometimes, the strict application of the principle of priority (Principle III of the Code) would result in name changes that are disadvantageous. For example, a species may have been known by one name for many years; then an earlier, long-overlooked name is discovered that applies to the same species. Strictly speaking, the well-known name is incorrect (as a later synonym) and should be replaced by the earlier name, which has priority. However, such a change could be disruptive for many users. In such cases, the Code provides a mechanism for overriding the principle of priority by conserving the later, well-known name against the earlier, long-overlooked name.

In other cases, the well-known name may turn out to be illegitimate, either because it is found to have been nomenclaturally superfluous when published or because a long-overlooked, earlier homonym is discovered (see How to tell if a name is legitimate or illegitimate). Similarly, the well-known but illegitimate name can be conserved against the earlier homonym and thus made legitimate; or, if it was nomenclaturally superfluous when published, it can be conserved with a different type.

To process for conserving a name is as follows:

  1. Write a proposal (a short paper) explaining the situation, and the reasons and justification why the name should be conserved, and submit it to the journal Taxon. (Note: all proposals for conservation must be submitted to Taxon; no other journal is acceptable). It is best to read other similar proposals, and check the instructions for such proposals, before submitting it.

  2. The relevant Permanent Nomenclature Committee will consider the proposal and recommend to either accept or reject it, publishing this recommendation in a report in Taxon.

  3. The General Committee will consider the Permanent Nomenclature Committee's recommendation, either accept or reject it, and publish its own recommendation in a report in Taxon. Upon publication of the General Committee's report, if the proposal is accepted, the name is conserved; if it is rejected, the name is not conserved and remains illegitimate and/or incorrect.

  4. The recommendations of the General Committee are subject to acceptance by an International Botanical Congress.

Note that when a name is conserved against an earlier taxonomic synonym, the earlier name is unavailable for use only so long as both names are regarded as applying to the name taxon. If future taxonomic change means this is no longer the case, then the earlier name may become correct again.

For more information, see Art. 14 of the Code and Chapter 8 Conservation, rejection, suppressed works, and binding decisions in The Code Decoded.

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