This discussion paper, by a Working Group of INTIMATE (Integration of ice-core, marine and terrestrial records) and the Subcommision on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS) of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), considers the prospects for a formal subdivision of the Holocene Series/Epoch. Although previous attempts to subdivide the Holocene have proved inconclusive, recent developments in Quaternary stratigraphy, notably the definition of the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary and the emergence of formal subdivisions of the Pleistocene Series/Epoch, mean that it may be timely to revisit this matter. The Quaternary literature reveals a widespread but variable informal usage of a tripartite division of the Holocene (‘early’, ‘middle’ or ‘mid’, and ‘late’), and we argue that this de facto subdivision should now be formalized to ensure consistency in stratigraphic terminology. We propose an Early–Middle Holocene Boundary at 8200 a BP and a Middle–Late Holocene Boundary at 4200 a BP, each of which is linked to a Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP). Should the proposal find a broad measure of support from the Quaternary community, a submission will be made to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), via the SQS and the ICS, for formal ratification of this subdivision of the Holocene Series/Epoch. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.