The Naming of Living Organisms

Carl linnaeus, a swedish botanist who lived in the 18th century, devised the system of natural classification and used the same groups as are used today. while the basic taxonomic ranks have not changed, the placing of many organisms within these groups has undergone radical changes in the light of more recent ideas and discoveries. he grouped organisms simply according to similar structural features he could observe at the time.

linnaeus also devised a system of naming organisms,based on his classification. this is still used today as an international naming system. such a universal system is essential if there is to be communication between scientists who speak different languages. without this, confusion could also arise because many organisms have different common names in different parts of the same country.

some of the present rules based on linnaeus’ system are as follows

latin names are used.

each organism is referred to by two names, the name of its genus followed by the name of its species.  therefore, it is known as a binomial system.

the genus takes a capital letter and the species name does not.

the names are written in italics when in print or underlined when in handwriting.

the first time an organism is referred to, its full name should be given, eg Homo sapiens. later in the same passage, it can be abbreviated to H. sapiens.

if the species is not certain but the genus is known, it is possible to refer to an organism by the name of the genus followed by sp or, if plural, spp, eg Paramecium sp.

if a new species is discovered, the discoverer may be allowed to choose the species name as long as it is latinised and acceptable. some biologists immortalise themselves or give credit to someone else by modifying a chosen name. often the name describes some feature of the organism in latin or it may refer to where the specimen was found.

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