Anyone can name a new species, anyone who knows how to do it and follows the rules. There is no formal degree required, no university course, nothing formal at all. There are also no naming rights. Whoever identifies a species as previously unnamed can name it, provided that person has specimens of this new species. Sometimes two people are in the process of naming the same species and whoever publishes the description first will be the one whose name will be adopted. This can be a source of conflict and it is a good idea to sort matters out in a friendly way. In Australia I would say most spiders are unnamed and I see the description and naming of these as a collaboration, not a competition. 

The first step in naming a new species is to make sure it actually is a new species, and that can often be the biggest hurdle. You need to know what all previously named species in a group look like. Species descriptions are often very old and poorly illustrated and could match different unrelated species. Illustrating a species is art and not everyone is a good artist. People have different styles. Sometimes it is possible to examine the original type specimen that has been lodged in a museum to see what a species really looks like and compare it with the illustrations, but sometimes such a type specimen deosn’t exist or is in very poor condition. 

The second step is to illustrate and describe that new species in ways in which it can be recognised in future and can be distinguished from other species. The choice of characters for the description and the type of illustration are up to the describer. Some describe the species in more detail than others, some prefer photographs over drawings. Some people like to include more or fewer measurements. In our descriptions we use mostly photographs, of living as well as dead specimens since these look quite different. We also like to illustrate juveniles and all sexes and we also like to describe the courtship behaviour in detail, but this is not a formal requirement.

While illustrating and describing it is useful to start the fun process of chosing a name. The person who writes the description usually choses the name but may take in consideration suggestions. It is often a name derived from latin or greek words, but there are many options. New species names can be chosen in reference to a particular character, they can be names that honour certain people who were involved in finding it, they can be place names that indicate where the new species lives. Sometimes people ask whether I can name the species after myself. I don't think there is a rule against it but nobody does it. However, if you are the describer of a new species your name will be forever attached to the new species' name, it become part of the formal name. For example, the species David Hill and I described as Maratus albus will be officially referred to as Maratus albus Otto & Hill in future, often accompanied by the year in which it was named, in this case Maratus albus Otto & Hill 2016. You can see the full names of each peacock spiders, together with their describers, in our catalogue which we will soon be updated to accomodate recently named species.

You will know that each species has a name consisting of two parts, we call this a binomen, and this goes back to Linnaeus who devised this system. The first part is the genus name and the second part the species name. I won't go here into details of how define or describe a new genus, but of course if your new species fits into the definition or outline of a known genus that first part of the name will be fixed. In our case, if it is similar to other peacock spiders you would probably want to call it Maratus.... followed by a species name of your chosing.

Another small task that is necessary is to pick a particular specimen that represents the “holotype” of the new species. The specimen that if there ever is any doubt what this new species looks like people can refer to in future. This specimen will be looked after at a designated place, usually a museum, hopefully for a very long time. In the case of peacock spiders it makes sense to use male specimens as holotype because females of various species are very very similar and designating a female as holotype can lead to a lot of confusion later on.

When the descriptions and illustrations are complete, they need to be assembled into a scientific publication and then submitted to a journal. Journals have different styles, copyright policies, some publish papers that are openly accessible (open access), others charge the reader or author, some may take years to publish a new species description, others are much quicker. So the choice of journal is quite important. Before submitting to a journal a number of things need to be ticked. The new species’ name need to be clearly stated and accompanied by the words “new species” or “n. sp.”. It needs to be stated which specimen the “holotype” is, when and where it was collected and by who, and where is now or will be lodged later. 

Once the publication is completed and submitted to a suitable journal, it will usually be reviewed by other scientists who know something about the subject matter. They might then recommend any changes and every describer will take these comments on board and implement those that are deemed useful. It may be necessary to outline to the journal editor why certain changes were not deemed necessary. When the editor is satisfied the article gets formally “accepted”. In some instances the editor may decide to “reject” the paper for varying reasons and then it is up to the author to look for a different journal and start the process afresh. When the article is accepted what follows is type setting, layout etc. and eventual the describer may receive something that is called “proofs”, a version of what the final article may look like in print. At that stage small changes are still possible but larger ones not. 

Eventually the article gets published, either online or in print. There used to be a requirement to have new names appearing in print, but for a few yours now it is now possible to just publish new names online. However, just stating a new name on facebook is NOT regarded a publication, it needs to follow certain rules that are outlined in the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature .That code is overall a very important guideline for anyone wanting to describe new species and it is worth studying it. The articles it contains can be a bit daunting and hard to understand, but one has to do the best to follow these rules to remain accepted in the zoological community.

One last thing. Finding a new species and naming it is of course exciting and useful and the press will love it in particular if your new species is photogenic such as peacock spider males (the press doesn't care about females). However, there is another task, often overlooked and which certainly won't get you press coverage. That is to sort out confusing names. For example, there is a lot of confusion what to call some of the most common and most frequently photographed jumping spiders in Australia. This is not a matter of finding a new name for them but finding out which is the "correct" one to apply and making a good case for it. Personally I find that activity at least as rewarding as naming a new species.