Last modified on 17 August 2013, at 17:04

Wiktionary:Taxonomic names

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Taxonomic names have peculiar features that deserve special consideration. Specifically, they are translingual, usable in any language that can accommodate Latin script and actually in use in scientific and other discourse in many languages. The names form a hierarchical structure, that is, however, subject to revision. Official bodies determining the status of names and of the hierarchical structure, which determinations strongly influence usage. Although taxonomic names have advantages and are widely known, vernacular names are more common in each language in which the species and genera occur.

Information structureEdit

Information about taxonomic names is relatively highly structured. That structure may make it easier to use templates to facilitate the improvement of entries. Some of that structure follows:

  1. Taxonomic level (argument 1 in {{taxon}} or level=) [mandatory]
  2. Placement in taxonomic hierarchy (arguments 2 and 3 in {{taxon}} or Hyponyms/Hypernyms/Coordinate terms semantic relations headers) ["-" to facilitate transition to use of semantic relations headers]
  3. Type status (type for hyponyms?, type) [to be shown in Hyponyms, Hypernyms]
  4. Status of name (synonym, basionym, etc) [junior synonymy eliminates need for full def., some others indicate reason for obsolescence, archaicism]
  5. English vernacular name (vern=) [may not exist or may only differ by capitalization or trivial morphological difference]
  6. Range (range=) ("cosmopolitan" unmarked) [useful for soliciting translation requests]
  7. Extinct or not (x=1*) ("extant" unmarked) [use of to mark extinct?].
  8. Differentia (?) (diff=) [relative to natural or taxonomic hypernym?]
  9. Importance to humans {imp=, optional)
  10. Phylogenetic status (monophyletic, paraphyletic*, polyphyletic*) (phyl=)
  11. "Natural" hyponym [natural to whom?] (hyp=)

Abbreviations in parentheses are not yet implemented. Items with "*" would be marked.

Arguably, items 1, 2, and 3 are more clearly conveyed under the Hypernyms and Hyponyms categories. Though it is standard lexicographic practice to include a hypernym in a definition, in the case of taxonomic names, some of the hyponyms have no meaning to normal users and little to others, being either obscure themselves or mere morphological relatives of the definiendum. Thus our use of {{taxon}}, as structured, arguably has taken us down a wrong track.

Linguistic contentEdit

Taxonomic names have less linguistic content than entries for natural language terms. Nevertheless, all taxonomic names have etymologies, they are spoken, and they have gender and number, inherited from or imitating Latin.


Although taxonomic names have proscribed meanings, those meanings can change over time, both in terms of circumscription (species etc included) and criteria for membership. Some terms lose their official status, but remain in use in the relevant translingual communities of scientists in some way.


Multipart names, ie, those below genus, do not generally have etymologies distinct from their compononent words.

Genera usually have names originating in other languages, most often Latin and Greek, but increasingly from indigenous languages in their native range. Some are Latinizations of the names of scientists. Some are formed by suffixation from the names of other genera.

Specific epithets can be of Latin or Greek origin, be eponymous, etc. They can be adjectives, possessive forms of nouns, or nouns used attributively.

Names above the level of genus, at least to the level of order, often are formed from a genus name and a suffix, plural in form.

Many higher level names have other Latinate derivations.


In principal, the pronunciation and its transcription into IPA could differ by the native language of the speaker.

Gender and numberEdit

The nouns all have gender and number, but the importance is highest for genus names, for which the specific epithet, if an adjective or participle used as an adjective, should be in agreement. Note that many specific epithets are in the form of the Latin genitive of nouns or of nouns used attributively, which therefore need not be in agreement.

Genus and species names are singular in form. All higher taxa are plural in form.

See alsoEdit