A Fish-Centric Guide to Zoological Nomenclature

Christopher Scharpf of the ETYFish Project (https://etyfish.org/) recently posted a revised guide to zoological nomenclature (see attached pdf file). His essay is an introduction to zoological nomenclature illustrated with names from the world of fishes (but which apply to non-fish taxa as well). Topics covered include:

  • how names are formed
  • how names are proposed or made “available”
  • why some names (synonyms) are set aside or not used at all
  • why a name that’s in use today may be replaced by a different name tomorrow
  • the eight ways an ichthyologist can name a fish
    • descriptive — names that refer to a physical characteristic (shape, color, anatomy, etc.)
    • biological — names that refer to an aspect of biology (diet, habitat, breeding behavior, etc.)
    • systematic — names that refer to taxonomy, classification or phylogenetic relationships
    • anthropocentric — names that refer to a fish’s importance to humans
    • commemorative — names that honor people, cultures, ships, institutions, and more
    • toponymic — names that refer to places (e.g., country, river, town) or geographic areas
    • vernacular — names derived from historical, local or indigenous vernaculars
    • nonsensical — coined or borrowed names with little or no significance

In addition, the essay includes two mini-essays on specialized topics: 1) names so offensive, they were pulled from publication; and 2) what happens when a zoologist proposes an eponym but spells the name wrong?

Hatchetfish - Argyripnus scharpfi Prokofiev 2023
Hatchetfish – Argyripnus scharpfi Prokofiev 2023

Chris also has written: “Eight Ways to Name a Fish: A Native Fish Enthusiast’s Guide to Zoological Nomenclature” which will appear in the Fall 2023 issue of American Currents, Volume 48 (4):7-15) – a publication of the North American Native Fishes Association (http://www.nanfa.org/).

If you haven’t followed Chris’ website, you have missed extremely thoughtful and well-written essays on ichthyological history and the how/when/why/where/what behind the myriad of fish species that have come to be named. The ETYFish Project site is usually updated Monday-Friday with a special essay, Fish of the Week, posted every Wednesday – https://etyfish.org/name-of-the-week/. I consult it daily and so should you!

Download the pdf here

1 thought on “A Fish-Centric Guide to Zoological Nomenclature”

  1. 7MAR2024. I am the author of the forthcoming ebook “Pieces”, in which I explain the scientific names of all kinds of organisms. In my current draft, I write:

    I used a vast number of references in writing “Pieces”. My favorite was The ETYFish Project: Fish Name Etymology Database [https://etyfish.org], a project led by United States ichthyologist and fish historian Christopher Scharpf. I acknowledge and praise The ETYFish Project for being a well-researched, highly dependable, and near-exhaustive reference for presenting trustworthy etymologies and meanings of fish taxon names. In “Pieces”, I give many of The ETYFish Project’s etymologies and meanings, where each applicable spot in “Pieces” begins with “Webpage etyfish.org/___ says.” In “Pieces”, I often write that a taxon author “did not give [this taxon’s] etymology and meaning”; Scharpf instead writes “allusion not explained.”

    Ernest Newell Spencer


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