Alexeyev and colleagues recently published a letter in the British Journal of Dermatology entitled, “Why we continue to the use the name Propionibacterium acnes,” in which they defended retaining this binomial nomenclature in opposition to the recent proposal to reclassify the Propionibacterium genus (Scholz & Kilian, 2016).

The proposed reclassification would split the existing Propionibacterium species to genera Acidopropionibacterium, Pseudopropionibacterium, and Cutibacterium, with this last category containing the (in)famous P. acnes firmly implicated in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris.

Alexeyev et al. note that P. acnes was previously classified within the genus Corynebacterium (and thus often denoted C. acnes), and consider the choice of new genus name “unnecessary.” I take their point to be the fact that the proposed Cutibacterium genus could have been simply left as Propionibacterium without producing ambiguity with the other two proposed genera. This seems like a fair criticism, at least if we consider the added value of association with the skin (in the “cuti-“ prefix) a negligible advantage for the proposed renaming. However, the authors further imply that adopting the proposed change might produce “confusion with the earlier nomenclature,” presumably where C. acnes conflates Corynebacterium acnes and Cutibacterium acnes. Such overlap in nomenclature does not strike me as a meaningful risk for confusion; in either case C. acnes refers to the same bacterial species, and the authors’ letter implies that only very senior professionals will be familiar with the antiquated nomenclature anyway.

The authors’ remaining justification is that it would require “large changes” to medical infrastructure and “even larger changes” to pharmaceutical and cosmetic infrastructure to incorporate the name change consistently. For the sake of argument I will grant the authors that the first set of “large changes” may be prohibitive as they suggest. What is unclear to me is why the burden upon the commercial sector is of concern to the medical profession. If a change in nomenclature is scientifically and/or clinically justified, I do not take as a given that the interests of the commercial sector should be considered. I can conceive of good reasons why clarity in marketing and product labeling is desirable for physician and patient navigation of products, but the onus upon producers to maintain such clarity is their concern; it does not, in my opinion, merit consideration in the choice of nomenclature.

Overall I think the authors’ desire to preserve P. acnes may be defensible, but I don’t find their argumentative approach particularly persuasive.