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Reprinted from the JOURNAL OF PALEONTOLOGY Vol. 24, No. 4, July, 1950


Aleppo, Syria

Stainforth (1949) has given reasons for considering the gender of Cibicides to be masculine and proposed corresponding changes in the gender endings of names introduced by certain authors. His conclusion was based on the fact that the Greek suffix -ides indicates a masculine gender.

Article 3 of the International Rules of Zoological Nomenclature states, “The scientific names of animals must be words which are either Latin or Latinized, or considered and treated as such in case they are not of classical origin.” Although Cibicides may be of Greek origin its use as a zoological name must follow Latin rather than Greek rules of grammar. This seems to be of minor importance in connection with this name because most authors, including the present one, have recognized its masculine gender, possibly because Montfort used the term “le cibicide.”

Mr. Stainforth has extended the influence of the gender of the genus not only to specific but also to varietal names, and valid objection to this practice is possible.

The “variety”, so common in paleontology, is not recognized in the International Rules, and Schenk and McMasters (1948, p. 27) do not include it in their list of Latin terms and abbreviations. The paleontological “variety” may correspond (Newell, 1948) either to a true (zoologic or generic) variety, or to a subspecies (which is provided for in the Rules), but commonly it is impossible to determine which status is intended. According to Article 17 a subspecific name immediately follows the specific name “without the interposition of any mark of punctuation.” A variety is indicated by the insertion of the abbreviation “var.” in this position and, according to the strict demands of grammar, the word for which it stands determines the gender of the succeeding adjective.

The abbreviation “var.” probably stands for either varietas or varians. The former is a feminine Latin substantive (-as, -aus, -x and -is are feminine endings). The latter seems to­ be a present participle used as a substantive and such words correspond in gender to their related nouns. In either case, “var.” stands for a feminine substantive and the following varietal adjective should also bear a feminine suffix.

Consequently it is proper for a varietal name to be feminine even though it is attached to masculine or neuter generic and specific names.


NEWELL, N. D., 1948, Infraspecific categories in invertebrate paleontology: Jour. Paleontology, vol. 22, pp. 225-232.

SCHENK, T. E., and McMASTERS, J. H., 1948, Procedure in taxonomy, 2nd ed.

STAINFORTH, R. M., 1949, Nomenclatural notes on Pullenia and Cibicides: Jour. Paleontology, vol. 23, pp. 436-440.


International Petroleum Company, Talara, Peru

Dr. van Bellen kindly sent me a copy of his note on paleontological “Latin” and its pitfalls, with the suggestion that I might care to make some comments on it. The main point raised is that in Dr. van Bellen’s opinion any varietal name should be expressed in a feminine form, to agree in gender with the feminine substantive varietas. This is a commonly held opinion although, as Dr. van Bellen points out, there seems to be no authoritative ruling on the matter. I am indebted to Dr. V. Petters in Bogotá, who wrote raising the same question, for the information that this opinion is upheld by Macfadyen and Kenny (in André, 1934).

I prefer to make the varietal name agree in gender with the generic substantive for two main reasons, viz:

(1) The insertion of “var.” is in practice optional and especially in faunal lists it is commonly dropped: e.g., Cibicides concentricus var. texana may by custom be written Cibicides concentricus texana. What now is the status of the varietal name? The obvious implication here is a generic substantive modified by two adjectives, which latter should both agree in gender with the noun, thus making Cibicides concentricus texanus the correct form. To claim that “var.” is omitted but understood invites the rejoinder that so also is “sp.,” also the abbreviation of a feminine substantive; hence on this basis Cibicides concentrica texana would be the correct form. It seems to me objectionable that the need to juggle with -a, -us, and -um should depend on one’s personal whim as to the inclusion or omission of “var.” The objection would be removed by a convention that both specific and varietal names should agree in gender with the generic substantive.

(2) Although a variety is not formally recognized in taxonomy its status is very close to that of a subspecies and it is almost splitting hairs to claim a distinction, e.g., that a subspecies is a geographically or chronologically modified variant whereas a variety is a trivial variant of no proven genetic significance. Species and subspecies are self-evidently words of the same quality, differing only in rank, and it would be illogical to apply different taxonomic treatments to them. It seems to be simply a matter of convention that in Linnean nomenclature the term “sp.” is usually omitted, whereas “subsp.” and its near synonym “var.” are usually inserted. Disregarding this convention, the logical procedure is to make specific and subspecific adjectives all agree in gender with the generic substantive, and if this be admitted, it seems to me an awkward pedantry to treat varietal names differently.

A third possibility is raised in a letter from Major C. W. Wright in London. The suggestion is novel to me but pending some authoritative ruling on the status of varieties it seems to have good standing. It is that “var.” should be read as “subspecies varietalis” as distinct from a geographic or chronologic subspecies. This idea has the considerable merit of giving “subsp.” and “var.” the same taxonomic rank while maintaining their slightly different meanings.

Dr. van Bellen’s note and my response, although referring to a particular case, draw attention to the general lack of uniformity in designation of varieties. The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature could perform a useful service by attention to this lacuna in the existing Rules; it is possible that such action was taken at the Paris meeting of the International Zoological Congress, 1948 (see Hemming, 1949), but here in Peru I am out of touch with recent developments.


ANDRÉ, E. J., 1934, On the correct writing in form and gender of names of the Foraminifera: Jour. Roy. Micros. Soc., vol. 54.

HEMMING, F., 1949, Letter to Mr. R. C. Moore in a nomenclatural note entitled “Revision of the International Rules of Zoological Nomenclature”: Jour. Paleontology, vol. 23, pp. 225-229.