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Linnaeus

Q: Why do we have to use scientific names when common names are so much easier?

Q: Why do we have to use scientific names when common names are so much easier? I can’t pronounce or spell the names.

A: You have raised an interesting question and one I am sure many others have scratched their heads about. Very few of us can spell or pronounce scientific names so you are not alone. However, the principle behind using scientific names is important. Using common names can often be confusing. For instance, when we use the word “gopher” some people think of a furry critter that causes havoc on golf courses or maybe a large land turtle or the young person who runs errands for the office. How would we know the difference? We know exactly how to distinguish them if we use their scientific names. In fact, no matter what language you speak or what country you are from scientific names are the same. The scientific name has two parts: genus and species. Think of it like a last (genus) and first name (species). This system of two names was developed by Linnaeus who used Latin because it was the common scientific language at the time (1700’s). The scientific name is usually italicized or underlined; genus is always capitalized and species is always lower case. Don’t be discouraged about the difficulty of trying to pronounce the words, start with a plant or tree you like and then build from that point.