How to name a new cultivar

Many of the Rules in the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (Cultivated Plant Code or ICNCP) deal with sorting out problems which have arisen in past nomenclature. The following short notes are intended as a quick guide to forming new cultivar names and should be read by anyone wishing to name a new cultivar. For precise regulations, the ICNCP is to be consulted.

You have a new cultivar and you wish to name it. First check that you do actually have a cultivar. A single plant is not a cultivar: a cultivar is a group of individual plants which collectively is distinct from any other, which is uniform in its overall appearance and which remains stable in its attributes. Do not attempt to name a cultivar until you have a number of individuals that are uniform and stable. Now convince yourself that your cultivar is really worth naming; there is no point in going through the process of naming your cultivar if it is not an improvement on others.

There are different sorts of cultivar ranging from clones, which should be genetically identical, to tightly controlled seed-raised cultivars such as F1 hybrids. Article 2 of the Code describes some of the different kinds of cultivar.

The only way you can check if your cultivar is new and distinct is by comparing it with existing cultivars. Your new cultivar must be distinguishable from others that exist or have existed.

Once you are satisfied that you do indeed have a new cultivar, decide if you want to give it a cultivar name. A name is made up of a botanical name in Latin (or its common-name equivalent) for a genus or species followed by a cultivar epithet which is the last part of the entire name and which renders the name unique. Cultivar epithets are always written within single quotation marks (never double quotation marks) so that they stand out from the rest of the name and so that their status is obvious.

Remember that cultivar names, by their very definition, are available for all to use and that the names themselves offer no protection if you wish to obtain intellectual property rights on your new cultivar.

The full name of a cultivar will always begin with the name of the genus to which the cultivar belongs. Optionally, the species or hybrid epithet may be included as a second element in the entire name but this is not usually necessary; inclusion of such epithets merely provides more information about your cultivar.

Since 1959, new cultivar epithets must be in a language other than Latin and they must be unique within the so-called denomination class which is usually the genus. A few groups have special denomination classes and these may be found listed in Appendix III of the Code.

Coining a new and original cultivar name is not easy, especially in groups which historically have had hundreds or even thousands of cultivars. Luckily many of these groups have International Cultivar Registration Authorities (ICRAs) who publish checklists and registers of names which are in use or which have been used in the past. You can search in the alphabetic list of genera in these pages to see if the genus of your cultivar is covered by an ICRA and then consult the ICRA's publications or contact the particular ICRA Registrar directly. Registrars will be glad to advise you if your proposed name has been used before and whether or not your name is in an acceptable form.

There have been many other lists of cultivar epithets produced in the past and a fairly comprehensive list of those is given in Appendix XI of the 1995 edition of the Code. This list of Checklists is kept up to date at Delaware State University (USA). Good horticultural and botanical libraries are likely to have copies of many checklists, registers, and other publications for you to check through prior to publishing your proposed name.

Thinking up a cultivar epithet requires a bit of care. An ideal epithet is both easy to spell and pronounce in the various countries through which the cultivar might be distributed. The rules for forming an epithet allow you to use or make up any word or words you want but the epithet will not be allowed as a cultivar epithet if it is confusing or likely to confuse or if it is contrary to the few provisions listed below. The Code governs the reasons why a proposed epithet might not be allowed: epithets not formed in accordance with the Code are to be "rejected".

1. The following are some of the Rules to follow when formulating a new name:
(a) Make sure your proposed name is unique and that the epithet is in a modern language other than Latin.  (ICNCP Art. 19.13-19.14)

(b) Make sure that your name cannot be confused either in spelling or pronunciation with an existing one. (ICNCP Art. 19.15)

(c) Make sure that your name could not be interpreted as being likely to exaggerate the merits of the cultivar. (Art. 19.26)

(d) Make sure that the epithet of your name has no more than 10 syllables and no more than 30 characters, excluding spaces and the single quotation marks. (ICNCP Art. 19.15)

(e) Make sure your epithet does not consist of a single letter or solely of numerals (ICNCP Art. 19.16)

(f) Do not use any of the following banned words (or their equivalents in any language) in your epithet: "cultivar", "grex", "group", "hybrid", "maintenance", "mixture", "selection", "series", "sport", "strain", "variety" (or the plural form of these words in any language) or the words "improved" or "transformed". (ICNCP Art. 19.19-19.20)

(g) Do not use any punctuation marks except for the apostrophe, the comma, a single exclamation mark, the hyphen and the full-stop (period). Do not use fractions or symbols unless they are specifically permitted. (ICNCP Art. 19.21-19.22)

(h) Make sure that your epithet is not, or does not contain, the Latin or common name of its genus or the common name of any species in that genus if use of such might lead to confusion. (ICNCP Art. 19.23-19.24)

(i) Make sure that publication of the cultivarís name is not against the wishes of its raiser or breeder. (ICNCP Art. 28.4)

2. Other Recommendations to bear in mind:
In addition to the Code's Rules for forming a new cultivar name, contravention of which will cause it to be rejected (ICNCP Art. 28.1), the following Recommendations, designed to avoid confusing or misleading buyers of plants, should be followed.

(a) Epithets should be as short as possible and not difficult to write or pronounce. (ICNCP Rec. 19A.1)

(b) Avoid epithets that might resemble terms used in the market-place. (ICNCP Rec. 19C.1)

(c) Avoid epithets only made up of simple descriptive words that are likely to become common adjectives within a group of cultivars within the denomination class. (ICNCP Rec. 19D.1)

(d) Avoid epithets that might give a false impression as to the attributes of the cultivar. (ICNCP Rec. 19E.1)

(e) Avoid epithets that imply that the cultivar is derived from another when this is not the case. (ICNCP Rec. 19F.1)

(f) Avoid epithets that give the false impression as to its raiser, breeder or origins. (ICNCP Rec. 19G.1)

3. Further provisions:
You should also bear in mind that if a new cultivar is likely to be registered with a statutory plant registration authority for purposes of e.g., national listing or plant breeders' rights, other conditions are likely to be required before a name (denomination) is approved by the appropriate authority. Each authority has its own rules, but the following additional conditions are often encountered:

(a) If your epithet contains the name of a living person, make sure you have asked their permission to use their name. (ICNCP Rec. 19B.1)

(b) Do not incorporate either abbreviations for the names of international organizations that are excluded from trade mark protection by international convention or trademarks themselves in a cultivar name. (cf. ICNCP Art. 28.3)

(c) Do not use names which might cause offence in the country where a cultivar is to be marketed. (ICNCP Rec. 19.H.1)

Assuming that your name is not due to be submitted as part of an application for statutory registration, then once you have satisfied yourself that your name is in an acceptable form, register it with the appropriate ICRA. This will cost you little more than time spent filling in a form and sending it off but will help ensure that the name is internationally recognized forever.

The name will have to be published in order to be fixed. You may either publish it yourself, say in your nursery catalogue if you are a nurseryman, or the ICRA concerned will publish it for you in due course if you register the name with them. ICRAs however are placed under no obligation to publish your name within a short period of time and you should realise that your chosen name might be used by someone else for a completely different plant unless you take steps to ensure early publication. If someone else, even if in a different part of the world, publishes your chosen name for a different cultivar in the same genus or other denomination class, you will have to think of another.

Publication of your new name must be in printed or similarly duplicated matter which is distributed to the general public or at least to botanical, agricultural, forestry or horticultural institutions with libraries. Newspapers, gardening or non-scientific magazines and similar publications which are not designed to last do not count as publications in this case. Publication on the World Wide Web or on CD-ROM does not count as publication since the pages are not permanent.

Publications must be dated. A new name appearing in a nursery catalogue will not be treated as having been published if that catalogue is not dated at least to the year.

Do not publish more than one name for the same cultivar in the same publication: if you do this none will be considered as having been published in that publication.

It may be that you are registering or publishing a new cultivar name on behalf of someone else or that you are promoting a new name for a cultivar raised by someone else. Check that the originator of the cultivar agrees with the proposed name (and its spelling) that you are promoting; if the originator does not, the name may have to be rejected later in favour of the originator's choice.

When you publish a new cultivar name, you must include a description of the cultivar. The longer and more complete the description the better, but at least state its obvious characteristics and if you can, state how it differs from an existing cultivar. It is helpful, but not compulsory, to provide an informative illustration of the new cultivar in the publication if expense permits.

Make a statement such as "new cultivar name" (not just "new" or "new cultivar") after the proposed name so that others may recognize the fact that you have deliberately published a new name for the first time. If you regularly publish new cultivar names, it would be most advantageous to list any new names appearing in your publication in a single place in that publication.

Send a copy of your publication to the ICRA and to the main horticultural libraries in your part of the world. If you are feeling generous, send copies to similar libraries in other parts of the world too.

If you can, distribute material for making nomenclatural standards and other herbarium specimens of the new cultivar to as many herbaria as is practical, especially to the nearest herbarium that specializes in maintaining nomenclatural standards (a list is provided in Appendix IV of the Code), This will help ensure that your cultivar will not become confused with others in the future and may help resolve disputes if more than one person thinks they have raised the same cultivar!

Finally, ensure that the name is used by everyone and do not encourage others to coin trade-designations or other selling names for your plant. The most effective way to protect a name is to label your plants clearly and unambiguously. Always maintain "your" cultivar epithet within single quotation marks to ensure that the status of your plant is understood.

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