Binomial Nomenclature "Latin Names"

ARTICLE by SS, June 28, 2016

Binomial nomenclature is the formal convention for naming living things; we utilize this standard for all of the plants and animals available here at SubstrateSource. As such, we thought it useful to provide some information regarding this naming methodology.

A binomial name, commonly known as a Latin name, is broken into two parts: a) genus and b) species. The first part identifies the genus in which a species belongs and the second part identifies the species within the genus. The genus is always capitalized while the species is not (you may now notice this throughout if you haven't already!)

Having a universal naming system, which is credited to Carl Linnaeus, is crucial to our ability to accurately identify species around the world. For example, the domestic cat has many different "common" names across the many different languages, but at the same time, it is always Felis catus (Figure 1.); this allows scientists to communicate effectively when referring to a particular animal.

Figure 1. Binomial name example
Felis catus

The binomial system also gives clues as to how species are related through their shared genus. For example, genus Anubias includes, among others, species hastifolia, barteri, and frazeri (Figure 2.). Since they're members of the same genus, we can make a few quick assumptions about their growth, form, and preferred aquarium environment. Most Anubias plants are slow-growing, amphibious plants that can be tied to driftwood or other decorations. They are hardy plants and can adapt to a wide range of lighting and temperature conditions.

Figure 2. Interpretting genera (plural of genus) example
Genus: Anubias
*Anubias frazeri is a hybrid plant of A. congensis and A. barteri. This is the accepted normal botanical name that conveys the specific cross by botanist, Ed Frazer.

Newly discovered species are almost always named by their discoverer and usually a Latin or "Latinized" (made Latin "sounding") form of the discover's name, the species' native location, or some characteristic specific to the species. Tyrannasaurus rex was the "rex" (king) of the dinosaurs. Take a guess as to where Lilaeopsis brasiliensis is native! Many aquarium plants and animals also have several "common" or "trade" names; these are usually easier to remember - and pronounce - so when appropriate, we include these as well on the site and in our guides. When a species is unknown, unidentified, or unspecified, you may see the species name replaced by "sp." (e.g. Taxiphyllum sp. in Figure 3.) When used in context and easily assumed, the genus is often abbreviated to the capitalized first letter (e.g. Cryptocoryne parva becomes C. parva).

Figure 3. Species or sp. explanation
Species or sp. Explanation

We hope we have been able to provide you with enough information to help you understand the basics of binomial nomenclature and how to better explore This article does not by any means encompass the extensive process and rules for naming as defined by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature; if you'd like to investigate this topic further, please visit