Johanson, White and Coppens (1978) coined the name Au. afarensis with L.H. 4 as the type and Garusi 1 as a paratype. Garusi 1 itself is a type specimen described by Weinert (1950) as Meganthropus africanus. Johanson, White and Coppens (1978) recognized Garusi 1 and the rest of the hypodigm as fitting within the genus Australopithecus, however transfering the name Meganthropus africanus to the genus Australalopithecus creates a homonym with Australpoithecus africans Dart, 1925, which prompted Johanson, White and Coppens (1978) to coin the new name Australopithecus afarensis Johanson, White and Coppens, 1978. While their paper was in press it was preempted by a scientific news announcement published by Hinrichsen (1978) in which the author announced the name Australopithecus afarensis and attributed it to Johanson alone. Day et al. (1980) argued that Hinrichsen (1978) meets the criteria for a valid nomenclatural act and thus the formal name for this taxon is Australpithecus afarensis Johanson, 1978 (in Hinrichsen, 1978).
Hinrichsen (1978) did not name a holotype, thus the subsequent type designation by Johanson et al. (1978) is a lectotype designation.
Groves (1996) formally requested that the ICZN suppress the name Meganthropus africanus and grant priority to Australopithecus afarensis. This appeal was made in case number 2998, with comments from White et al. (1998) and approved by ICZN in 1999 as opinion number 1941. In their final opinion, the ICZN ruled that the name africanus Weinert 1950 is formally suppressed for the purposes of the Principle of Priority but not for those of the Principle of Homonymy. The same ruling also acknowledged the name afarensis, Johanson 1978 with the specimens L.H. 4 as the lectotype. Groves (1999) reviews the nomenclatural history.
Strait et al. (1997) and Strait and Grine (2004) advance a cladistic classification for the australopiths and place Australopithecus afarensis into its own genus, Praeanthropus Senyürek, 1955.
Kimbel and Delezene (2009) review the history of Au. afarensis and include a footnote discussing its nomenclatural history. Harrison (2011) reviews the taxonomic history and nomenclature of Australopithecus afarensis in his description of new material attributed to this taxon from Laetoli.