Specific name (zoology)

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In zoological nomenclature, the specific name (also specific epithet or species epithet) is the second part (the second name) within the scientific name of a species (a binomen). The first part of the name of a species is the name of the genus or the generic name. The rules and regulations governing the giving of a new species name are explained in the article species description.


The scientific name for humans is Homo sapiens, which is the species name, consisting of two names: Homo is the "generic name" (the name of the genus) and sapiens is the "specific name".

Historically, this was not the case. Carl Linnaeus, who formalized binomial nomenclature, made explicit distinctions between specific, generic, and trivial names. The generic name was the genus, the first in the binomial, the trivial name was the second name in the binomial, and the specific the proper term for the combination of the two. For example the binomial name of the tiger, Panthera tigris. [1]

This was the proper usage from the 18th century into the late 20th century, although many authors seemed to be unaware of the distinctions between trivial and specific names and inconsistent and erroneous usage even appeared the International Code of Zoölogical Nomenclature. [1]

The grammar of species names

Grammatically, a binomen (and a trinomen, also) must be treated as if it were a Latin phrase, no matter which language the words were originally taken from. (This gives some justification to the popular usage of the phrase "Latin name" instead of the more correct phrase "scientific name".) Grammatically (using Latin grammar), the specific name must adhere to certain conventions. The specific name can be formed as:

Differences from botany

In botanical nomenclature, "name" always refers to the whole name (of a species or otherwise), whereas in zoological nomenclature it can refer to either part of the binomen. Thus Hedera helix (common ivy, English ivy) is the name of the species; Hedera is the name of the genus; but helix is the specific epithet, not the specific name. [2]

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Linnaean taxonomy A rank based classification system for organisms

Linnaean taxonomy can mean either of two related concepts:

  1. the particular form of biological classification (taxonomy) set up by Carl Linnaeus, as set forth in his Systema Naturae (1735) and subsequent works. In the taxonomy of Linnaeus there are three kingdoms, divided into classes, and they, in turn, into orders, genera, and species, with an additional rank lower than species.
  2. a term for rank-based classification of organisms, in general. That is, taxonomy in the traditional sense of the word: rank-based scientific classification. This term is especially used as opposed to cladistic systematics, which groups organisms into clades. It is attributed to Linnaeus, although he neither invented the concept of ranked classification nor gave it its present form. In fact, it does not have an exact present form, as "Linnaean taxonomy" as such does not really exist: it is a collective (abstracting) term for what actually are several separate fields, which use similar approaches.

A genus is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, as well as viruses, in biology. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family. In binomial nomenclature, the genus name forms the first part of the binomial species name for each species within the genus.

Binomial nomenclature System of identifying species of organisms using a two-part name

Binomial nomenclature, also called binominal nomenclature or binary nomenclature, is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms, although they can be based on words from other languages. Such a name is called a binomial name, a binomen, binominal name or a scientific name; more informally it is also called a Latin name.

The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) is a widely accepted convention in zoology that rules the formal scientific naming of organisms treated as animals. It is also informally known as the ICZN Code, for its publisher, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The rules principally regulate:

Subspecies Taxonomic rank subordinate to species

In biological classification, the term subspecies refers to one of two or more populations of a species living in different subdivisions of the species' range and varying from one another by morphological characteristics. A single subspecies cannot be recognized independently: a species is either recognized as having no subspecies at all or at least two, including any that are extinct. The term may be abbreviated to subsp. or ssp. The plural is the same as the singular: subspecies.

Subgenus taxonomic rank

In biology, a subgenus is a taxonomic rank directly below genus.

In biology, a common name of a taxon or organism is a name that is based on the normal language of everyday life; this kind of name is often contrasted with the scientific name for the same organism, which is Latinized. A common name is sometimes frequently used, but that is by no means always the case.

Nomenclature is a system of names or terms, or the rules for forming these terms in a particular field of arts or sciences. The principles of naming vary from the relatively informal conventions of everyday speech to the internationally agreed principles, rules and recommendations that govern the formation and use of the specialist terms used in scientific and any other disciplines.

Botanical name Scientific name for a plant, alga or fungus

A botanical name is a formal scientific name conforming to the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) and, if it concerns a plant cultigen, the additional cultivar or Group epithets must conform to the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP). The code of nomenclature covers "all organisms traditionally treated as algae, fungi, or plants, whether fossil or non-fossil, including blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria), chytrids, oomycetes, slime moulds and photosynthetic protists with their taxonomically related non-photosynthetic groups ."

An epithet is a name. In taxonomic nomenclature, it is a word or phrase (epithet) in the name of an organism. It can be:

A tautonym is a scientific name of a species in which both parts of the name have the same spelling, for example Rattus rattus. The first part of the name is the name of the genus and the second part is referred to as the specific epithet in the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants and the specific name in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

In zoological nomenclature, a trinomen, trinominal name, or ternary name, refers to the name of a subspecies. For example: "Gorilla gorilla gorilla" for the western lowland gorilla. Also, "Bison bison bison" for the plains bison.

In botanical nomenclature, author citation is the way of citing the person or group of people who validly published a botanical name, i.e. who first published the name while fulfilling the formal requirements as specified by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN). In cases where a species is no longer in its original generic placement, both the authority for the original genus placement and that for the new combination are given.

In biology, a homonym is a name for a taxon that is identical in spelling to another such name, that belongs to a different taxon.

The Botanical and Zoological Codes of nomenclature treat the concept of synonymy differently. In botanical nomenclature, a synonym is a scientific name that applies to a taxon that (now) goes by a different scientific name. For example, Linnaeus was the first to give a scientific name to the Norway spruce, which he called Pinus abies. This name is no longer in use: it is now a synonym of the current scientific name, Picea abies. In zoology, moving a species from one genus to another results in a different binomen, but the name is considered an alternative combination, rather than a synonym. The concept of synonymy in zoology is reserved for two names at the same rank that refer to a taxon at that rank - for example, the name Papilio prorsaLinnaeus, 1758 is a junior synonym of Papilio levanaLinnaeus, 1758, being names for different seasonal forms of the species we now refer to as Araschnia levana(Linnaeus, 1758), the map butterfly. However, Araschnia levana is not a synonym of Papilio levana in the taxonomic sense employed by the Zoological code.

Undescribed taxon a taxon that has been discovered but not yet formally described and named

In taxonomy, an undescribed taxon is a taxon that has been discovered, but not yet formally described and named. The various Nomenclature Codes specify the requirements for a new taxon to be validly described and named. Until such a description has been published, the taxon has no formal or official name, although a temporary, informal name is often used. A published scientific name may not fulfil the requirements of the Codes for various reasons. For example, if the taxon was not adequately described, its name is called a nomen nudum. It is possible for a taxon to be "undescribed" for an extensive period of time, even if unofficial descriptions are published.

<i>Philosophia Botanica</i> book by Carolus Linnaeus

Philosophia Botanica was published by the Swedish naturalist and physician Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) who greatly influenced the development of botanical taxonomy and systematics in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is "the first textbook of descriptive systematic botany and botanical Latin". It also contains Linnaeus's first published description of his binomial nomenclature.

Taxonomic rank Level in a taxonomic hierarchy

In biological classification, taxonomic rank is the relative level of a group of organisms in a taxonomic hierarchy. Examples of taxonomic ranks are species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, domain, etc.

A species description is a formal description of a newly discovered species, usually in the form of a scientific paper. Its purpose is to give a clear description of a new species of organism and explain how it differs from species which have been described previously or are related. The species description often contains photographs or other illustrations of the type material and states in which museums it has been deposited. The publication in which the species is described gives the new species a formal scientific name. Some 1.9 million species have been identified and described, out of some 8.7 million that may actually exist. Millions more have become extinct throughout the existence of life on Earth.


  1. 1 2 Schenk, E. T. and J. H. McMasters, (Revised by Keen, A. M. and S. W. Muller). 1948. Procedure in Taxonomy. Stanford University Press. Stanford, California. vii, 93 pp.
  2. McNeill, J.; Barrie, F.R.; Buck, W.R.; Demoulin, V.; Greuter, W.; Hawksworth, D.L.; Herendeen, P.S.; Knapp, S.; Marhold, K.; Prado, J.; Prud'homme Van Reine, W.F.; Smith, G.F.; Wiersema, J.H.; Turland, N.J. (2012). International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code) adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011. Regnum Vegetabile 154. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag KG. ISBN   978-3-87429-425-6. Article 23.1