From the earliest times plants and animals have been given common names by the people. Since no system was used in choosing common names, in many cases, various regions had their own names for the same plant or animals. Take ‘onion’ for example; its common Urdu name is ‘Piyaz’ but in different regions of Pakistan it is also known as ‘ganda’ or ‘bassal’ or ‘vassal’. In different countries it would have another set of names. Similarly ‘amaltas’, argvad’ , ‘gurmala’ , ‘golden shower’ , purging cassia, are common names for the same plant. Thus the same plant may have different names. In some cases, a single name refers to several different plants or animals.

What is ‘blue bell’? Dozen of plants with bell shaped flowers are called ‘blue bells’. Similarly the word ‘black bird’ would mean a crow as well as a raven. Common names have no scientific basis. To a biologist, a fish is a vertebrate animal with a backbone, fins and gills. But ‘silver fish’ is an insect, and a ‘Cray fish’,  ‘jelly fish’ and ‘starfish’ do not fit the biologist’s definition of a fish.

Nomenclature biology

Common names had long caused confusion. During the 18th century, Carlous Linnaeus (1707-1778). A Swedish botanist, devised a system for naming and classifying all the organisms known to him. His system is used today internationally. He discarded the common names of plants and gave each one a scientific name. He took the scientific name from Latin word. Linnaeus published the list of names of plants in 1753.

The scientific name of each plant had two parts. Usually, the name referred to some characteristics of the organisms or the person who collected it. His system spread rapidly and became so popular that he used it later on in naming animals and published his list in 1758. Many of his names are in use today.

Linnaeus’s system of giving each species a scientific name comprising two words is known as binomial nomenclature. The first name refers to the genus (pl genera) and is called generic name and always begins with a capital letter. The specific name follows the generic name and begins with small letter. Scientific name for onion is allium cepa, for amaltas cassia fitula and for man homo sapiens. Botanical name for potato is solanum tuberosum and for brinjal salanum melangena.

The same generic name for potato and brinjal reflects close relationship between theses two species. Every species has only one scientific name the world over. Initially the classification was based on the appearance or morphology of plants and animals but with advancement in the knowledge of cytology, physiology, genetics and molecular biology the classification of organism has been modified.