The Chinese government has announced a temporary name for the illness caused by the coronavirus, ordering the local authorities and the state news media to adopt it. In English, it will be called N.C.P., for novel coronavirus pneumonia, the national health commission said on Saturday.
A final, official name will eventually be chosen by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The organization has submitted a name to a scientific journal for publication and hopes to reveal it within days, the BBC reported.
The naming of viral illnesses is a complicated matter that involves both science and public relations. Past names, like the Spanish flu or Rift Valley fever, have been seen as contributing to the stigmatization of countries or regions. In 2015, the World Health Organization issued new guidelines, after the choice of the name for Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, was criticized.
As well as avoiding place names, those guidelines recommend not using people’s names (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), animal names (swine flu, equine encephalitis), cultural or occupational references (Legionnaires’ disease) or words that induce fear (unknown, death, fatal, epidemic).
The W.H.O. has recommended its own temporary name for the new illness: 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, or 2019-nCoV. But the name is difficult to pronounce, and has been less popular than “coronavirus,” which describes a larger category of viruses.
“We thought it was very important to put out an interim name so that no location was associated with the name,” Maria Van Kerkhove, a W.H.O. epidemiologist, told the body’s executive board on Friday.