Jo Mortimer

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A Note on Animal Nomenclature

In 1793, a Swedish biologist devised a system that made it easier for people around the world to talk about animals.

Thanks to Carl Linnaeus’s lightbulb moment, each species now has its own two-word (binomial) name. This is made up of genus and specific names. Having this system in place supports discussion, research and therefore conservation.

Personal favourites include:

Ovis aries – the humble sheep

Spongiforma squarepantsii – a spongy mushroom found in Malaysia


The first name is the genus and must always begin with a capital. The specific name always starts in lower-case.

Gaps, accents, apostrophes and numbers are not used.

The whole name should be written in full the first time. Subsequently, the genus name can be abbreviated e.g. Panthera tigris can become P tigris.

Mythical names are not scientific names and so must not be used as such. No, not even unicorns.

If an animal appears to have two names, preference will usually be given to the one first published.

It's a pretty fail-safe system which allows for some daft and delightful names - whilst querying might be sensible, it's probably correct.


Jo Mortimer