Latest general taxonomic proposal on naming taxa with personal names

Taxonomic proposal 2017.003G Change ICVCN Rule 3.11

I strongly recommend that all members of ICTV vote NO to this proposal!

This proposal aims to change ICVCN Rule 3.11 that provides guidance in naming new taxa:

"No person's name shall be used when devising names for new taxa." It also includes the "Comment: New taxon names shall not be created by adopting a person's name, by adding a formal ending to a person's name or by using part of a person's name to create a stem for a name."

The new proposal, put forward for voting by members of the ICTV, states:

"A person's name may be used when devising a name for new taxon. If the person is alive at the time of the proposal, the person’s written consent for use of his/her name must be provided together with the official taxonomic proposal. Whether the use of a person’s name for taxon naming is appropriate will be judged by the responsible ICTV Study Group, the respective ICTV Subcommittee, and the ICTV Executive Committee and approved or disapproved following established taxonomic proposal procedures. Furthermore, a) An individual may not propose his/her own name as the basis for any new taxon name; and, b) A taxon may not be named wholly or in part after any current member of an ICTV Study Group or committee.”

The current rule has been in place since the origins of ICTV (then known as ICNV) in1966, and is summarized in the First Report as Rule 8 “No person’s name shall be used” (Wildy, 1971). The ICNV also made a clear statement that “The code of bacterial nomenclature should not be applied to viruses.” (see minutes of the first meeting of the ICNV, Moscow 1966 July 22).

This rule has been applied consistently since that time, and has helped to establish the difference between virus names and taxa names. ICTV is only concerned with naming taxa and has established rules for this. The naming of viruses is beyond the mandate of ICTV. It is certainly possible that a person’s name could be used to name a virus. However, naming a virus taxa after a person, mainly “dead white guys” would be a disservice to the goal of international virus nomenclature. At least in North America, many people, mostly males, have become discredited in recent years, for actions and behavior that are now seen as unacceptable. Trying to “honour major researchers dead or alive “ is surely not the role of virus taxonomy.

The merits of the rules of ICTV have recently been noted (Garnett and Christidis, 2017)

Additionally, there is a matter of process involved with this proposal. Currently, the Executive Committee has put forward taxonomic proposals that are in conflict with the current Rule 3.11 (see for example 2017.001B.N.v1.Ackermannviridae). Surely, a rule change should be approved before proposals conflicting with the old rule are put forward by the Executive Committee.


Garnett, S. T., and Christidis, L. (2017). Taxonomy anarchy hampers conservation. Nature 546(7656), 25-27.

Wildy, P. (1971). Classification and nomenclature of viruses. First report of the International Committee on Nomenclature of Viruses. Monographs in Virology 5, 1-81.