Whenever a name is used, it is used somewhere.


Whenever a name is used, it is used somewhere. Every instance of a name appearing in print is either de novo, or it’s a citation of that name appearing somewhere else. That’s logic.

And so, our “name” table should be treated as an optional one-to-one table on name instances. Those name instances that are nomenclatural events

Fun (psudeo?) fact: taxonomists don’t name species and genera and whatnot. God no! So naïve! They name individual specimens. Then they argue about how we should group the specimens into species. Once that’s done, the specimen with the oldest name names the group. This means that scientific names stay more-or-less stable over time, even as new things are discovered and our understanding of how to group them changes.
But what if something doesn’t fit any of the groups? Well, either this “something” of yours has been properly collected and described; or else it hasn’t. If you have properly collected it, then you get to name it; if you haven’t, then it doesn’t exist until you or someone else does. If we didn’t have this rule (“you must actually have a specimen of whatever-it-is”), then we’d have scientific names for unicorns and fairies. ‘Specimen’ is pretty broadly-construed, sometimes, but the rule is still there.

(the act of giving a specimen a name) have additional data about the name they establish, and other instances cite them. In most cases where a name is simply used, it should be treated as a citation of the protonymic instance.

In other words, the NAME_ID on each instance that is not a protonym is – in principle – a derived field. It is (just making up some notation here) “instance is citation of instance”* -> “instance creates name”, over the real world of publications and the names in them.

In a perfect world. We don’t have the whole of the real world in our database. Very few databases do.

Here are a couple of issues:

Common names. Common names sort of exist in the aether, there is no nomenclatural event that creates them. There are also many names which even if they are real, scientific names created validly under whatever code governs them – we don’t necessarily have the creating instance in our data (eg, stuff that doesn’t occur in australia, obscure papers, other reasons).

Invalidly published names that are subsequently validly published. Someone names a specimen, but they didn’t dot the i’s and cross the t’s (often, it’s that they didn’t describe the specimen properly. In Latin, dammit, like what God talks.). Someone else subsequently – sometimes even the same author in the same year – does it right. Now, from one point of view the second work is citing the first. But from the point of view of scientific naming, that first name doesn’t “count” as really being a

When the word ‘name’ is used in this sense, it is always spoken with a specific emphasis difficult to reproduce in a blog post. This distinction results in my boss occasionally saying things like “But those names aren’t names at all!”, and all the scientists in the room nodding solemnly in agreement. This can really put off logical types who haven’t worked here for a while, to whom the distinction is a new one.

name. So things that want to cite the protonym ought to be citing the second occurrence, not the first. I think what happens here is that one is the protologue and the other is the protonym.

Chains of citations. If we in the database modelled it the way it “really” is, you would have to walk the chain of citations to get at the actual name.

So what’s the upshot of this?

The upshot is that of course we have a name table, and of course every instance holds a pointer to the name that is an instance of. What I’m saying is that this should be viewed as a denormalised data structure that – for convenience – doesn’t exactly model what’s really going on, and that’s perfectly ok.

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