Scientific names are used to describe various species of organisms in a way that is universal so that scientists around the globe can readily identify the same animal. This is called binomial nomenclature, and many of the scientific names are derived from the Latin name of the organism. The scientific name is broken down into the genus name, which comes first, followed by the specific species name.
Modern binomial nomenclature was adopted by Swedish physician and botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century. The reason for the proposition of the two-part name was to create a code that more readily identified specific species without the use of long descriptors that could be prone to subjectivity.
The use of scientific names eliminates confusion between nationalities that may have different common names for organisms by assigning them a universal name that acts as a code. Scientists from one nation can converse with scientists from another about a specific organism with the aid of the scientific name, avoiding confusion that may arise from differing common names.
A scientific name is created as a compound statement involving the genus and species name of an organism. The genus name comes first and describes a narrow range of organisms within a family. The genus is always capitalized. It is followed by the specific species name, which is not capitalized, and narrows the identification down to the single organism. The species names are often derived from either Latin or Greek. Scientific names should always be underlined (if hand written) or italicized (if typed).
Binomial nomenclature is often accompanied by the name of the discoverer and date of the discovery of the said organism to create even more specificity. For example, instead of simply saying a "common limpet," a scientist might say "Patella vulgata, Linnaeus, 1758" to more readily describe the organism in question. Cultivars, which are organisms that result from human-influenced mutations, are indicated with the scientific name followed by "cv" and the name of the strain, or simply the name of the strain in single quotes. An example would be Astrophytum myriostigma cv. Onzuka or Astrophytum myriostigma ‘Onzuka.'
Scientific names are prone to change as scientific understanding of certain organisms changes. Some genera may be split into larger subgroups to accommodate for more specific biological differences. For example, all cats were once under the genus name Felis, but the genus of Lynx has been created for bobcats to indicate more specificity. Some organisms are given multiple scientific names, which are known as synonyms. Lasiurus borealis and Nycteris borealis, for example, are the same organism. However, delayed adoption of the current name (Nycteris borealis) means that the former name is still in use.
About the Author
Brenton Shields began writing professionally in 2009. His work includes film reviews that appear for the online magazine Los Angeles Chronicle. He received a Bachelor of Science in social science and history from Radford University.