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Synonym (taxonomy)


In scientific nomenclature, a synonym is a scientific name that applies to a taxon that (now) goes by a different scientific name, although zoologists use the term somewhat differently. For example, Linnaeus was the first to give a scientific name (under the currently used system of scientific nomenclature) to the Norway spruce, which he called Pinus abies. This name is no longer in use: it is now a synonym of the current scientific name which is Picea abies.

Unlike synonyms in other contexts, in taxonomy a synonym is not interchangeable with the name of which it is a synonym. In taxonomy, synonyms are not equals, but have a different status. For any taxon with a particular circumscription, position, and rank, only one scientific name is considered to be the correct one at any given time (this correct name is to be determined by applying the relevant code of nomenclature). A synonym is always the synonym of a different scientific name and cannot exist in isolation. Given that the correct name of a taxon depends on the taxonomic viewpoint used (resulting in a particular circumscription, position and rank) a name that is one taxonomist's synonym may be another taxonomist's correct name (and vice versa).

Synonyms may arise whenever the same taxon is described and named more than once, independently. They may also arise when existing taxa are changed, as when two taxa are joined to become one, a species is moved to a different genus, a variety is moved to a different species, etc. Synonyms also come about when the codes of nomenclature change, so that older names are no longer acceptable; for example, Erica herbacea L.. has been rejected in favour of Erica carnea L. and is thus its synonym.

To the general user of scientific names, in fields such as agriculture, horticulture, ecology, general science, etc., a synonym is a name that was previously used as the correct scientific name (in handbooks and similar sources) but which has been displaced by another scientific name, which is now regarded as correct. Thus Oxford Dictionaries Online defines the term as "a taxonomic name which has the same application as another, especially one which has been superseded and is no longer valid." In handbooks and general texts, it is useful to have synonyms mentioned as such after the current scientific name, so as to avoid confusion. For example, if the much advertised name change should go through and the scientific name of the fruit fly were changed to Sophophora melanogaster, it would be very helpful if any mention of this name was accompanied by "(syn. Drosophila melanogaster)". Or to give another example, a mention of the name Apatosaurus is much helped by the addition "(syn. Brontosaurus)". Synonyms used in this way may not always meet the strict definitions of the term "synonym" in the formal rules of nomenclature which govern scientific names (see below).



  • Homotypic, or nomenclatural, synonyms (sometimes indicated by ) have the same type (specimen) and the same taxonomic rank. The Linnaean name Pinus abies L. has the same type as Picea abies (L.) H.Karst. When Picea is taken to be the correct genus for this species (there is almost complete consensus on that), Pinus abies is a homotypic synonym of Picea abies. However, if the species were considered to belong to Pinus (now unlikely) the relationship would be reversed and Picea abies would become a homotypic synonym of Pinus abies. A homotypic synonym need not share an epithet or name with the correct name; what matters is that it shares the type. For example, the name Taraxacum officinale for a species of dandelion has the same type as Leontodon taraxacum L. The latter is a homotypic synonym of Taraxacum officinale F.H.Wigg.
  • Heterotypic, or taxonomic, synonyms (sometimes indicated by =) have different types. Some botanists split the common dandelion into many, quite restricted species. The name of each such species has its own type. When the common dandelion is regarded as including all those small species, the names of all those species are heterotypic synonyms of Taraxacum officinale F.H.Wigg. Reducing a taxon to a heterotypic synonym is termed "to sink in synonymy" or "as synonym".
  • Synonyms in botany are comparable to "junior synonyms" in zoology.
  • The homotypic or nomenclatural synonyms in botany are comparable to "objective synonyms" in zoology.
  • The heterotypic or taxonomic synonyms in botany are comparable to "subjective synonyms" in zoology.
  • When Dandy described Galium tricornutum, he cited G. tricorne Stokes (1787) pro parte as a synonym, but explicitly excluded the type (specimen) of G. tricorne from the new species G. tricornutum. Thus G. tricorne was subdivided.
  • The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group's summary of plant classification states that family Verbenaceae "are much reduced compared to a decade or so ago, and many genera have been placed in Lamiaceae", but Avicennia, which was once included in Verbenaceae has been moved to Acanthaceae. Thus, it could be said that Verbenaceae pro parte is a synonym of Acanthaceae, and Verbenaceae pro parte is also a synonym of Lamiaceae. However, this terminology is rarely used because it is clearer to reserve the term "pro parte" for situations that divide a taxon that includes the type from one that does not.
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Wikipedia

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