How to Write Scientific Names (Part 1)

Understanding the rules for writing a scientific name

The use of precise terminology is essential in scientific writing. The existing system of taxonomy enables authors to adopt standard scientific terms.

Naming and categorization of animals and plants have been conducted for thousands of years; however, early attempts were not systematic. Devising a universal system for scientific names is rather new, initiating from the 18th century with the foundational work of naturalists such as Carl Linnaeus. The modern system of taxonomy enables individuals to refer to the exact same species or taxa as other scientists regardless of the person’s native language. This standard framework underpins the entire body of scientific research that aim to understand the living things in the world and the way they are related.

Therefore, following the rules of writing a scientific name is vital for any scientific work. Here we provide a brief overview of the taxonomic system of living organisms and the way  scientific name of plants or animals should be written.

How to write scientific names

What is binomial nomenclature?

The system of binomial nomenclature was devised by Carl Nilsson Linnæus and is still in use.

In this naming system, a Latin name consisting of two key elements is given to each individual species of organism:

  1. the genus and
  2. the species, in that order.

However, it should be noted that a scientific name can also contain a subspecies in case additional information is necessary for the accurate identification of a specific organism.

Scientific names are standardized by international codes.

Example: What is the scientific name of a cat?

The scientific name of the domestic housecat is Feliscatus (note that because scientific names are in Latin, the written forms are always italicized, and the first word should be capitalized).

In this case, Felis and catus indicate the genus and the species, respectively. These two pieces together constitute the scientific name of a domestic cat.

for a better understanding of the significance of these categories, we will review the hierarchy of all seven classification levels of the domestic cat.

Classification of the domestic cat: All seven classification levels

Although these classifications are useful and interesting, only genus, species, and (if applicable) subspecies are necessary for the creation of a standard binomial scientific name.

Kingdom: Animalia—this category includes all animals.

Phylum: Chordata (subphylum Vertebrata)—this category encompasses animals with chordates or backbones.

Class: Mammalia—this category includes all mammals (i.e., animals with hair, three middle-ear bones, and mammary glands).

Order: Carnivora—as indicated by the name, this category includes all carnivores.

Family: Felidae—this category encompasses both wild and domestic cats.

Genus: Felis—this category encompasses smaller cats and cats that cannot roar.

Species: Catus—This is the particular brand of a small cat that has befriended humans. These species encompass 40-50 breeds of cats.

Now, what is the scientific name of a dog?

Likewise, the scientific name for the domestic dog is Canis lupus familiaris. In this case, Canis refers to the genuslupus, the species; and familiaris, the subspecies.

Therefore, the friendly Pomeranian is a subspecies of Canis lupus—the gray wolf!

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