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Linné on line arrow Plants and Animals arrow The order in nature arrow Each species has two names

Each species has two names

All known organisms have scientific names. The wood anemone is named Anemone nemorosa and the elk is named Alces alces. The scientific names might feel more difficult to learn than the native names, but they are easy compared to the names used in Linnaeus’ time. They could be very long and consist of a long string of Latin words describing the plant or animal. The wood anemone was then called Anemone seminibus acutis foliolis incisis caule unifloro, which means: anemone with pointed seeds, leaves with incisions and stalk with one flower.


The sabre fish pictured in Linnaeus’ journey to Scania 1751.

Linnaeus was not happy with the long names. In the account of his journey to Scania he writes about a fish, the sabre fish, which had been given a name longer than the fish. The scientific name of the fish consisted of no less than 63 words!

Since Linnaeus had the talent to simplify and rationalise, he figured out a much better system for naming organisms. In the book Species Plantarum he used, for the first time, his new naming system throughout the whole book. This book had all known plants of the world listed following the sexual system. Linnaeus introduced the two names principle, the binary nomenclature, in Species Plantarum. The binary nomenclature means that each species has a genus name and a species name. The genus name of the wood anemone is Anemone, a genus name common to all closely related anemones. The species name of the wood anemone is nemorosa, and that of the closely related yellow anemone is ranunculoides (Anemone ranunculoides).

By the two names principle of Linnaeus, short and useful working names for the plants were introduced. The new names became very popular, not least among the student who had to learn them by heart. Linnaeus introduced the same principle for the names of animals in 1758, in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae. It was an ingenious rationalisation that is still used. The system with a genus name and a species name is used worldwide and is one of Linnaeus’ most important inventions.