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Common Names -v- Scientific Names

How Do You Choose a Name?

The father of modern taxonomy is a Swedish chap called Carl Linnaeus. He lived in Uppsala, Sweden in the 18th Century and came up with a clean and useful way of ordering and naming species. Up until Linneaus, jellyfish were called in science, things like 'an animal with no red blood that has a soft body and no shell'. Linnaeus came up with the neat system of ordering everything as they relate to other things.

Linnaean system of classification
Species Classification Diagram

Helpful pneumonic: Last December King Phillip Came Over For Ginger Snaps

The last two names, the genus and the species, become the binomial name we use to describe species e.g. Homo sapiens, Gorilla gorilla, Tyrannosaurus rex etc. Taxonomists tend to use Latin or ancient Greek. For example the European Robin is:

Erithacus rubecula

Erithacus [solitary bird] rubecula [diminutive of red] - 'solitary little red bird'.

To give a new species a binomial name, taxonomists have a careful look at other similar species, work out which genus the new species is in (it may be a new genus too) and give it a name closest to its closest relative. The species name is often descriptive or geographical. There are some rules though, for example you are not allowed to name it after yourself or name it anything silly. Of course, taxonomists don’t always follow the rules.

Wunderpus photogenicus is a type of rare octopus.

Gaga germanotta is a fern with an early stage that looks a lot like Lady Gaga.

Tinkerbella nana a species of fairyfly.

Every species has a binomial name, made up of the genus and species.