Proposal (767) to South American Classification Committee



Change the specific epithet of Des Murs’s Wiretail to desmurii


BACKGROUND: With few exceptions, all major taxonomic lists and publication on Furnariidae and birds of Southern South America in the XX century used the specific epithet desmursii for Des Murs’s Wiretail. After a recent review of some issues regarding the original publications (Gregory & Dickinson 2012), some lists and publications (Dickinson & Christidis 2014) started to use desmurii instead of desmursii.



There are other issues related to the description of the Des Murs’s Wiretail, prominently authorship and year of publication are controversial but the two potential authors, Des Murs (1847) and Gay (1847), used the specific epithet desmurii. The spelling desmursii was used for the first time by Bonaparte (1850) as a synonym of Des Murs’ name maluroides. Bonaparte and later authors probably concluded that desmurii was erroneous because omitted the last letter of Des Murs’ name, and thus considered that the specific epithet should be desmursii (or desmursi for those averse to the double “i” at the end). Actually, there seem nothing grammatically wrong with Latinizing the name des Murs as desmurii (Murray Bruce, in lit.). Moreover, it is not clear whether the new spelling given by Bonaparte was even “intentional” as he did not indicate the original spelling (desmurii) nor specified the reason for the change. Therefore, there is no evidence for desmursii to be a “justified emendation” and therefore it should be considered simply as an incorrect subsequent spelling (Art. 33.2).




“Art. 33.3.1. when an incorrect subsequent spelling is in prevailing usage and is attributed to the publication of the original spelling, the subsequent spelling and attribution are to be preserved and the spelling is deemed to be a correct original spelling.”


Therefore, we need to evaluate whether desmursii has been in prevailing usage. Before Peters, prevailing usage is not clear, with different authors using desmurii, desmursi, or desmursii. If that situation had persisted to current times, preferring the original spelling desmurii would be the best course of action. However, after Peters (1951), the spelling desmursii became almost universally used in taxonomic lists, field guides, books, and the scientific literature. It has been only very recently that some lists started to use desmurii again. Because desmursii has been in prevailing usage, it is protected by ICZN Art. 33.3.1 and should be considered the “correct original spelling.” There is no justification for reverting to desmurii.


There has been a trend in recent years of resurrecting old spellings and some checklists and publications are adopting them uncritically, as if the principle of priority were the only criterion in nomenclature. We need to remember that the principle of priority is only a tool to aid in a more important goal of the nomenclature system: stability. Using the principle of priority against stability is wrong and against the main goals and spirit of the principles of zoological nomenclature.


RECOMENDATION: I recommend a NO on this proposal, as it is unjustified, against the goals of The Code, and threatens stability.



Bonaparte, C.L. 1850. Conspectus Generum Avium. Vol 1. Lugduni Batavorum, Leiden.

des Murs, M. A. 1847. Iconographic Ornithologique. Paris.

Dickinson, E. C. & Christidis, L. 2014. The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the world, 4th ed., Vol. 2. Aves Press.

Gay, C. 1847 - Historia Física y Política de Chile. Zoología, Tomo Primero.

Gregory, S. M., & Dickinson, E. C. (2012). An assessment of three little-noticed papers on avian nomenclature by GN Kashin during 1978–1982. Zootaxa, 3340(1), 44-58.

Peters, J. L. 1951. Check-list of birds of the World. Vol. 7. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University Press.



Santiago Claramunt, January 2018




Comments from Stiles: "NO. I am not sure that this solution adheres to the ICZN criteria for stability, but given that desmurii probably was due to a simple typographical error, I am more comfortable with the correct spelling!


Comments from Areta: "YES. As I stated in other proposals of this kind, going against priority should be regarded as something exceptional, and I think that we need a serious evaluation on the pros and cons of each view. I wonder how much "prevailing" is desmursii over desmurii (google hits 4800 and 680 respectively). In the internet era, prevailing names may change rapidly! Traditional taxonomists would see the perpetuation of incorrect subsequent spellings as sacrilegious."


Comments from Zimmer: “NO.  I find Santiago’s arguments persuasive, although I must say that these sorts of issues make my head hurt!”


Comments from Stotz: “NO.  I think that desmursii has the advantage of being the intended name as well as the name used by most authors since Peters.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO.  I cannot see the merits of reverting to a name that is long forgotten and seems to be incorrect.”


Comments from Pacheco: “YES. I disagree with Santiago's recommendation for the reasons mentioned below:


“The content of Article 33.3 in ICZN is:

Incorrect subsequent spellings. Any subsequent spelling of a name different from the correct original spelling, other than a mandatory change or an emendation, is an "incorrect subsequent spelling"; it is not an available name and, like an incorrect original spelling [Art. 32.4], it does not enter into homonymy and cannot be used as a substitute name, but

33.3.1. when an incorrect subsequent spelling is in prevailing usage and is attributed to the publication of the original spelling, the subsequent spelling and attribution are to be preserved and the spelling is deemed to be a correct original spelling.


Because the original spelling "desmurii" is an acceptable Latinization (see Murray Bruce's opinion above), any subsequent emendation (e.g. Bonaparte 1850, Sclater 1867) is unjustified and incorrect according the ICZN.


“The exception (33.3.1) would only occur when an incorrect subsequent spelling is in prevailing usage. Prevailing usage which type? Now, in the last 10 years, in the last 50 years, in this century or since it was described?  Unfortunately, the ICZN does not establish objective rules for recognition of "prevailing usage" of disputed spellings.


“Elsewhere, for other purposes, the rules of ICZN for using a recent name other than that of the original name may provide elements for judging the case:


23.9. Reversal of precedence. In accordance with the purpose of the Principle of Priority [Art. 23.2], its application is moderated as follows:

23.9.1. prevailing usage must be maintained when the following conditions are both met: the senior synonym or homonym has not been used as a valid name after 1899, and the junior synonym or homonym has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, in at least 25 works, published by at least 10 authors in the immediately preceding 50 years and encompassing a span of not less than 10 years.

From the above article, does not it seem discordant that original spellings x subsequent spellings use another logic?


“A quick search on Google Books allowed me to find the spelling "desmurii" in a handful of books and articles after Peters (1951) and before Dickinson & Christidis (2014).  As well noted by Nacho Areta, "prevailing usage" in Internet times is controversial. My research today on Google, returned 9180 “desmursii” against 1530 “desmurii”.


“I vote YES for the maintenance of "desmurii" precisely because it is not a ‘forgotten name’ besides being the [correct] original spelling.”


Comments from Robbins: “If I followed this thread completely, Santiago makes a good case for keeping with desmursii. So, I continue to vote NO.”


Comments from Claramunt: “I disagree with Fernando because Art. 23.9 applies only to homonyms and synonyms, not to alternative spellings, and it makes sense to use stricter criteria for homonyms and synonyms because application of prevailing usage may change the actual author of a name, potentially leaving a preceding author in oblivion. For alternative spellings, the author does not change. 


“The Code defines prevailing usage of a name as: ”that usage of the name which is adopted by at least a substantial majority of the most recent authors concerned with the relevant taxon, irrespective of how long ago their work was published.”


“So, fairly ambiguous. It is not straightforward to define the pool of “authors concerned with the taxon.” Then, what is a “substantial majority”? (80%? 95%?). Finally, it mentions “the most recent authors” but “irrespective of how long ago their work was published.”


“I understand that this may be frustrating and may prompt some to plainly disregard prevailing usage and use priority as the sole criterion. But a lax criterion should not be viewed as a defect of The Code. My interpretation is that The Code is leaving taxonomist more freedom for potentially adopting a spelling that differs from the original one. For example, original spellings may have typographical or orthographical errors. Sometimes, subsequent authors corrected these original spellings and those corrections became the prevailing name. The Code is OK with that and I think we should follow suit.


“Moreover, note that the preservation of an “incorrect subsequent spelling” based on Art. 33.3.1 is not an obscure loophole in The Code, it is explicitly stated in the description of the application of the principle of priority to spellings:


“23.5. Application to spellings. The Principle of Priority applies to the spellings of an available name, unless an incorrect spelling has been preserved in accordance with Article 33.3.1,…”


“So, prevailing usage trumps priority in the case of alternative spellings. So, the vote on this proposal is defined by answering this question: Has the name desmursii been used by “a substantial majority of the most recent authors concerned with the relevant taxon?” If your answer to this question is “yes”, then vote NO on this proposal. If you answer to this question is “no”, then vote YES on the proposal.”


Comments solicited by Remsen from Richard Schodde, WGAN: “The issue is pretty straight-forward, turning on whether to respect the intention of the Code or to stick with the original rules for original spelling on the grounds that "prevailing usage", on which this case turns under Art. 33.3.1, is so vaguely defined that it can't be applied convincingly. Edward Dickinson and Normand David took the latter view in the Howard & Moore checklist. I see Fernando Pacheco has also invoked Article 23.9, but it is irrelevant here, as pointed out by Santiago Claramunt. This is a case of precedence in spelling, not synonyms or homonyms.

“So what is the definition of "prevailing usage" in the Code? It is given in the Glossary and says: "that usage of the name which is adopted by at least a substantial majority of the most recent authors concerned with the relevant taxon, irrespective of how long ago their work was published". Article 89.1 of the Code also says: "In interpreting the Code, the meaning attributed in the Glossary to a word or expression is to be taken as its meaning for the purposes of the Code".

“So the question: have a substantial majority of most recent authors adopted desmursii over desmurii? The only information among your respondents comes from Fernando Pacheco, who reports 9180 usages of desmursii and 1530 of desmurii in Google. That's a 6 to 1 majority for desmursii, which I think anyone would call substantial.

“So my firm view is that the spelling desmursii should be deemed the correct original spelling under Article 33.3.1 of the Code.

“I would also like to add that Edward Dickinson & Normand David have done monumental work in reviewing the nomenclature of avian species group taxa, which deserves acknowledgement from us all. But in the process, they have used vagaries of wording in the Code to suit their purposes of "correcting" spellings to a multitude of long-established names that has had really only one effect: destabilisation of nomenclature, contrary to the Code's objectives in its Preamble. It forgets that systematic ornithology is a science and nomenclature its servant, not master.

“Because of the influence of the Howard & Moore checklist on avian nomenclature globally, I hope that the SACC stands by its majority decision here and that other checklist committees around the world take note and follow its example.

“Please distribute this to the SACC if you wish.”


Comments from Remsen: “NO.  I was waiting to hear from someone as knowledgeable as Dick Schodde about the priority vs. prevailing usage issue.  Science is best served by stability in the case of nomenclature, in my opinion, and this is a major mission of the Code itself.  No useful scientific purpose is served by such minor corrections to spelling of names that are in widespread use.  As Santiago pointed out, desmursii was in universal usage from Peters until Dickinson & Christidis (2014), including virtually every major work on South American birds, and to change it would go against the mission of the Code itself.”