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Binomial nomenclature

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A painting of Carolus Linnaeus wearing the clothing of Lapland, made by Hendrick Hollander in 1853.

In biology, binomial nomenclature is how species are named. As the word "binomial" suggests, the name of a species is made of two parts: one indicating the genus and one indicating the species. Binomial nomenclature means "two-part name" or "system of two-part names".


The person who popularized this system for use was Swedish botanist and physician Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778)[1] who tried to name all things in the natural world and gave every species (animal, vegetable or mineral) that he knew a two-part name. This kind of naming had been used before Linnaeus, but before Linnaeus, almost nobody used binomial nomenclature. After Linnaeus, about everybody did.

under- and upper surface of leaf of Populus alba

Value of binomial nomenclature

The value of the binomial nomenclature comes from its economy, its widespread use, and the uniqueness and stability of names in the system. The system replaced the use of Latin descriptive names

  • Widespread: worldwide use instead of different local names.[2]
  • Clarity: avoids the same term used for different species. Example: "robin" used for different birds in America compared to Europe.[3]
  • Uniqueness: One name for a species.[4]
  • Stability: the rules favour stability.[5]
  • Economy: said to be easier to remember than the previous system.[6]

Where names come from

The components of a name may come from any source whatsoever. Often they are Latin words, but they may also come from Ancient Greek, from a place, from a person, a name from a local language, etc.

The names themselves are always treated grammatically as if they were a Latin sentence. This is why the name of a species is sometimes called its "Latin name," but scientists like calling these names scientific names.

The genus name must be unique inside each group of life. Species indicators need not be unique, but of course may not be used twice within the same genus.


  1. "Carolus Linnaeus - biography". 2011. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  2. Van Dyke, Fred 2008. Contemporary issues of the species concept. Conservation biology: foundations, concepts, applications. Springer, p. 86. ISBN 978-1-4020-6890-4 [1]
  3. McArthur, J. Vaun 2006. Species concepts and speciation. Microbial ecology: an evolutionary approach. Academic Press, p. 36. ISBN 978-0-12-369491-1 [2]
  4. Russell, Peter J. et al 2007. Species concepts and speciation: the Linnaean system of taxonomy. Volume 2, Cengage Learning, p. 493. ISBN 978-0-495-01033-3
  5. Stevenson, Joan C. 1991. Dictionary of concepts in physical anthropology. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 53. ISBN 978-0-313-24756-9 [3]
  6. Knapp, Sandra [2011] What's in a name? A history of taxonomy: Linnaeus and the birth of modern taxonomy. Natural History Museum, London. [4]

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