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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004 Apr 29;359(1444):611-22.

Stability or stasis in the names of organisms: the evolving codes of nomenclature.

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Department of Botany, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.


Nomenclature, far from being a dry dusty subject, is today more relevant than ever before. Researchers into genomics are discovering again the need for systems of nomenclature-names are what we use to communicate about organisms, and by extension the rest of their biology. Here, we briefly outline the history of the published international codes of nomenclature, tracing them from the time of Linnaeus in the eighteenth century to the present day. We then outline some of what we feel are the major challenges that face the codes in the twenty-first century; focusing primarily on publication, priority, typification and the role of science in the naming of organisms. We conclude that the codes are essential for taxonomists in the pursuance of their science, and that the democratic nature of decision-making in the regulation of the rules of nomenclature, though sometimes perceived as a potential weakness, is in fact one of its great strengths.

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