Binomial nomenclature

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The formal system of naming species is called binomial nomenclature (especially in botany,[1] but also used by zoologists[2]), binominal nomenclature (since 1953,[3] the technically correct form in zoology[4]), or binary nomenclature.

The essence of this system of naming is this: each species name is formed out of (modern scientific) Latin (or is a Latinized version of other words), and has two parts, the genus name and the species name (also known as the specific epithet), for example, Homo sapiens, the name of the human species. The two-part name of a species is popularly known as the Latin name. However, biologists and philologists prefer to use the term scientific name rather than "Latin name", because the words used to create these names are not always from the Latin language, even if the words have been Latinized in order to make them suitable. Instead names are often derived from ancient Greek word roots, or words from numerous other languages. Frequently species names are based on the surname of a person, such as a well-regarded scientist, or are a Latinized version of a relevant place name.

Carl von Linné (also known as Linnaeus) chose to use a two-word naming system, and did not use what over time came to be a full seven-category system (kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus-species.) Linnaeus chose a binomial nomenclature scheme, using only the genus name and the specific name or epithet which together form the whole name of the species. For example, humans belong to genus Homo and their specific name is sapiens. Humans as a species are thus classified as Homo sapiens. The first letter of the first name, the genus, is always capitalized, while that of the second is not, even when derived from a proper noun such as the name of a person or place. Conventionally, all names of genera and lower taxa are always italicised, while family names and higher taxa are printed in plain text. Species can be divided into a further rank, giving rise to a trinomial name for a subspecies (trinomen for animals, ternary name for plants).

Biologists, when using a name of a species, usually also give the authority and date of the species description. Thus zoologists will give the name of a particular sea snail species as: Patella vulgata Linnaeus, 1758. The name "Linnaeus" tells the reader who it was that described the species; 1758 is the date of the publication in which the original description can be found, in this case the book Systema Naturae.

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