The name of living things

Throughout history, various peoples have created their own names (codes) to name what they saw around them.

With all the languages ​​in the world, the same being - a cat for example - is identified by different names.

Katze (German)
Koshka (Russian)
Chat (French)
Neko (Japanese)
Cat (Portuguese)

Imagine this situation: A Japanese scientist writes an article to disclose a discovery regarding the neko. How could a Brazilian scientist, without knowledge of the Japanese language, understand that being alive the Japanese scientist is referring to?

To avoid this communication problem, a scientific nomenclature.

The scientific name of the cat is Felis catus.

A language that was internationally known and unchanged was chosen - the Latin, because it is a dead language (not used by any nation today and therefore not subject to change) and because in many countries it was studied even in elementary schools, including Brazil.

When we use them in texts, the scientific names of the species are highlighted. This highlighting is usually done using italic letters, that is, slanted or underlined letters.

How do you spell the scientific name of living things?

It was not until 1735 that a universal classification system for living beings was reached: the binomial system of nomenclature elaborated by Lineu. The species was adopted as the basic classification unit.

In the binomial system some naming rules should be observed:

  • The scientific name of a species must be written in Latin and it should be highlighted in the text (in italics or underline) as we have seen.
  • It is mandatory to use two words to designate the scientific name of a species, hence the term binomial naming system (the word binomial means 'with two names', 'with two words'). The first of these must be written in capital letters; the second, with lowercase initial letter
  • The first word, capitalized, indicates the genus to which the species belongs. The expression formed by the first word plus the second designates the species.

See the examples:

Equus caballus (horse)

Genre: Equus

Species: Equus caballus

Note that the horse belongs to the genus Equus and the species Equus caballus (and not simply to the species horseman).

Popular nomenclature

The naming of living beings that make up biodiversity is a step in the classification work. Many beings are "baptized" by the population with popular or vulgar names, by the scientific community.

These names may designate a very broad set of organisms, including sometimes even unrelated groups.

The same popular name can be given to different species, as in this example:

Ananas comosus

Ananas ananassoids

These two species of the genus ananas are called by the same popular name Pineapple.

Another example is the beach crustacean Emerita brasiliensis, which in Rio de Janeiro is called armadillo, and in the states of São Paulo and Paraná is called tattooed.

In contrast, animals of the same species may be given various names, as occurs with the jaguar, whose scientific name is Panthera Onca.

Other popular names:

canguçu, jaguar-canguçu, jaguar-canguçu

Another example is the Manihot esculenta plant, whose root is much appreciated as food. Depending on the region of Brazil, it is known by several names: aimpim, macaxeira or cassava.

Considering the examples presented, we can see that the popular nomenclature varies a lot, even in a country like Brazil, where the population speaks the same language, except the indigenous languages. Imagine if we consider the whole world, with so many, so many different languages ​​and dialects, the many names of the same living being can be given. Thus we can understand the need for an internationally adopted standard nomenclature to facilitate the communication of various professionals, such as doctors, zoologists, botanists and all those who study living things.

Want to know more about the classification of living things?