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ISSUE 2 (18):

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Reproduced from the website of The International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS),

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 which 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 defines the different kinds of cultivar.

The only way you can check if your cultivar is new and distinct is by comparison with existing cultivars. Your new cultivar must be distinguishable from those which 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 such as that 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 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 necessary; inclusion of such epithets merely provides more information about your cultivar.

Nowadays, new cultivar epithets must be in a modern language and they must be unique within the so-called denomination class which is usually the genus. Some groups have special denomination classes and these may be found in Appendix IV 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. Check in the Directory of families, genera & species with ICRAs to see if the genus of your cultivar is covered by an ICRA and then consult the ICRA's publications. Each ICRA has a registrar who will be glad to advise you if your proposed name has been used before and whether or not your name is acceptable.

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 Code. This list of Checklists is kept up to date on the WWW at Delaware State University (USA). Most good horticultural and scientific libraries will have copies of many of these publications for you to check for prior publication.

Composing an epithet requires a bit of thought. An ideal epithet is both easy to spell and pronounce in the various countries where the cultivar might be distributed. The rules for composing 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: disallowed epithets are to be "rejected".

The following is a checklist of things to do when formulating a new name:

  1. Make sure your proposed name is unique and in a modern language e.g. not in Latin.
  2. Make sure that your name cannot be confused either in spelling or pronunciation with an existing one.
  3. Make sure that your name could not be interpreted as being likely to exaggerate the merits of the cultivar (`Best Ever', `The Greatest' and `Tastiest of All' are not acceptable for obvious reasons!)
  4. Make sure that your epithet has no more than 10 syllables and no more than 30 characters, excluding spaces and the single quotation marks.
  5. Make sure that your epithet is not only made up of simple descriptive words like `Red', `Giant White' or `Small'.
  6. Do not use any of the following banned words or their equivalents in any language in your epithet: "cross", "hybrid", "grex", "group", "form", "maintenance", "mutant", "seedling", "selection", "sport", "strain", "variety" (or the plural form of these words in any language) or the words "improved" or "transformed".
  7. Do not use any punctuation marks except for the apostrophe, the comma, a single exclamation mark, the hyphen and the full-stop (period).
  8. If your epithet is a single word, make sure that the word is not the same as that of a genus, whether in botanical Latin or in a modern language. (Erica, Daphne, Iris and Veronica happen to be Latin names of genera and are not permitted as one-word cultivar epithets even though they are personal names as well. Rose and Violet are common names of genera and they too are not permitted to stand alone as cultivar epithets. Such a word may be used in an epithet of two or more words provided that it does not form the final word. (`Erica Smith', `Iris Jones', and `Rose Queen' are acceptable.)
  9. Make sure that your epithet does not contain the botanical or common name of its genus or the common name of any species in that genus. (Rosa `Christmas Rose', Potato `Jim's Spud' and Primula `White Cowslip' are not acceptable.)


In addition to the Code's regulations for forming new cultivar names, you should bear in mind that if a new cultivar is likely to be registered with a statutory plant registration authority for purposes of say, national listing or plant breeders' rights, additional 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 conditions are often encountered:

  1. Not to incorporate trade marks in a cultivar name unless the applicant is the trade mark owner. `Coca-Cola' and `Big Mac' would not be acceptable.
  2. Apart from in "code names", not to include numbers unless a number is an integral part of a name. `10 Downing Street', `Henry VIII' and `Catch 22' would be acceptable, but `10th Anniversary' and `No. 66' might not be.
  3. Not to compose a name with a mixture of upper and lower case letters within a word unless customary. `John McNeill' would be acceptable but `FuNnY FiSh' might not be.
  4. Not to compose names which resemble terms used in the market-place. `Twenty Marks', `Two Litres', and `Five Kilos' might not be acceptable.
  5. Not to use abbreviations of an international organization which is itself excluded from trade mark protection by international convention. `UNESCO Dream' `European Union', and `World Bank' might not be acceptable.
  6. Not to use names which might cause offence in the country where a cultivar is to be marketed `Adolf Hitler', `Little Bastard', and `Catholic Killer' might not be acceptable.
  7. Not to use names which might mislead as to the origin of a cultivar. Malus `Dear Granny Smith' might not be acceptable if the cultivar was not derived from, or related to, the apple `Granny Smith'.

Advice on the suitability of a proposed name should be available from the appropriate statutory authority.


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