International Code of Zoological Nomenclature

The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) is a widely accepted convention in zoology that rules the formal scientific naming of organisms treated as animals. It is also informally known as the ICZN Code, for its publisher, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (which shares the acronym "ICZN"). The rules principally regulate:

  • How names are correctly established in the frame of binominal nomenclature[1]
  • Which name must be used in case of name conflicts
  • How scientific literature must cite names
Front Cover of the 4th edition of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature

Zoological nomenclature is independent of other systems of nomenclature, for example botanical nomenclature. This implies that animals can have the same generic names as plants (e.g. there is a genus Abronia in both animals and plants).

The rules and recommendations have one fundamental aim: to provide the maximum universality and continuity in the naming of all animals, except where taxonomic judgment dictates otherwise. The code is meant to guide only the nomenclature of animals, while leaving zoologists freedom in classifying new taxa. In other words, while species concepts (and thus the definition of species) are arbitrary to some degree, the rules for names are not. The code applies only to names. A new animal name published without adherence to the code may be deemed simply "unavailable" if it fails to meet certain criteria, or fall entirely out of the province of science (e.g., the "scientific name" for the Loch Ness Monster).

The rules in the code determine what names are valid for any taxon in the family group, genus group, and species group. It has additional (but more limited) provisions on names in higher ranks. The code recognizes no case law. Any dispute is decided first by applying the code directly, and not by reference to precedent.

The code is also retroactive or retrospective, which means that previous editions of the code, or previous other rules and conventions have no force any more today,[2] and the nomenclatural acts published earlier must be evaluated only under the present edition of the code. In cases of disputes a case can be brought to the commission who has the right to publish a final decision.[3]


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