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Species Names in Latin Genitive Case for Geographical Names

From: Ben Creisler
Species Names in Latin Genitive Case for Geographical Names

A recent paper contends that using the Latin genitive case 
to show geographical origin is a "mistake" in zoological 
nomenclature. This contention is not correct and I think 
it might be helpful to authors of future names to provide 
a quick review of the current rules and practices 
concerning the genitive case.

The revised 1999 edition of the International Code of 
Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) moved toward lightening the 
burden of strictly following Latin grammar in forming 
zoological names.  One result was to drop the old 
appendices in the Code that explained how to form Latin 
names. These appendices were intended as recommendations 
only but provided plenty of detailed examples of how 
to "correctly" form and use family, genus, and species 
names derived form Greek and Latin. This old guide to 
forming names is still helpful and has not been repealed 
or repudicated.

The revised 1999 ICZN (minus the old appendices)is now 
available for free online at:

The old appendices about forming names have to be 
consulted in previous editions of the ICZN such as the 
1985 edition sometimes available at libraries.  

Genitive in Species Names
According to ICZN rules (11.9), the Latin genitive case of 
a noun, or sometimes of an adjective, can be used as a 
species name. Apart from the nominative case, other 
inflected Latin cases such as the dative, accusative, or 
ablative case should NOT be used as species names. The 
genitive case in Latin had a range of meanings, but for 
purposes of zoological nomenclature it can be loosely 
translated as "-'s," or "of," "for," or "from" a person or 
a place.

The Latin genitive case is typically used in zoological 
names as a species name to honor a person. The current 
rules allow a name honoring a male person to be formed by 
adding "-i"  at the end and honoring a female person by 
adding "-ae"; "-orum" is used for honoring more than one 
male person or a group including males and females; "-
arum" is used for a group of  persons who are all female. 
Note that this simplified system ignores the grammatical 
complications of the full Latin declension system for 
proper names and nouns. (The "feminine" -ae genitive 
ending was used in Latin for certain masculine nouns and 
male proper names that ended in "a" such as the 
Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca (genitive: Hamilcaris 
A species name in the genitive case can also be used to 
show geographical origin. This occurred in Latin. For 
example, Pliny the Elder in his Natural History referred 
to the scorpion as "dirum animal Africae" ["noxious [dire] 
animal of Africa"]. Here's what the old Appendix D in the 
1985 edition of the ICZN said:

ICZN 1985 edition
IV. Names formed from geographical names
22. A species-group names based on a geographical names 
should be
(a) preferably an adjective derived from the geographical 
name, and ending in a suitable suffix, such as -ensis or -
iensis, e.g., cubensis (Cuba), timorensis (Timor), 
ohioensis (Ohio), siciliensis (Sicily);
(b) or a noun in the genitive case, e.g. neapolis 
(Naples), ithacae (Ithaca), sanctipauli (St. Paul), romae 
(Rome), vindobonae (Vienna), burdigalae (Burgundy).

Note that the examples given for using the genitive case 
to indicate geographical origin are either Latin names or 
words, or geographical names translated into Latin words 
and follow the rules of Latin grammar. The combination 
Shuvuuia deserti is fine since desertus is a Latin word.

In practice, authors have taken non-Latin names and simply 
appended a genitive case ending such as -i or -ae in the 
same way used for species names that honor people. Recent 
examples for dinosaurs include Stormbergia dangershoeki 
and Adeopapposaurus mognai. The geographical 
names "Dangers Hoek" and "Mogna" were arbitrarily given a 
masculine genitive ending -i. Such species names are 
permitted and are not "mistakes." Arguably the longer 
adjectival forms "dangerhoekensis" or "mognensis" might 
have been preferred, but this is a trivial matter of 
taste. The existing versions of the species names can pass 
muster under current ICZN rules and don't cause confusion. 
A complication with the adjectival ending -ensis is that 
it has a neuter form -ense that has to be used with 
generic names ending in neuter -therium, -chasma, -stoma, 

Genitive in Generic Names
The derivation of the dinosaur name Aviatyrannis was 
explained as:
Derivation of name: avia, grandmother, and tyrannis, 
genitive form of tyrannus, tyrant

In fact the, genitive of tyrannus in Latin is tyranni 
(Greek tyrannos has the genitive tyrannou). This minor 
grammatical issue is moot. What counts in that the 
spelling of the entire name Aviatyrannis allows it to be 
read as a feminine Latin noun in singular number in the 
nominative case in accordance with ICZN requirements. 
According to ICZN rules, a generic name CANNOT end with a 
genitive case inflection.

The suffix -is is a common ending for words and names in 
the nominative case in Greek and Latin and has been widely 
used in zoological names: 
Gavialis gangeticus (masc)
Podarcis hispanica (fem)

The bottom line here is that it is better NOT to use nouns 
in the fully inflected genitive case when forming a 
generic name. True, some compounds in Greek and Latin were 
formed by combining the full genitive with a noun it 
modified. Greek: kynosoura (spelled cynosura in 
Latin) "dog's tail" from kynos (genitive of kyon)"dog" + 
oura [nominative case] "tail." These constructions are not 
common in zoological names. Note that the combining stem 
form of many Greek and Latin nouns or adjectives is 
commonly found by taking the genitive case and DROPPING 
the inflected ending. Thus the combining form of Greek 
kyon "dog" is "kyn-," found by dropping the -os ending 
from the genitive kynos: Cynodon, etc.

The common way to express the idea of possession, 
relatedness, or ownership in a generic name would be to 
combine the word elements so that the modified element 
comes last: Marshosaurus "Marsh's lizard"; 
Stokesosaurus "Stokes' lizard," etc.