UDC 811.124:58.001


Balalaieva Olena Yurievna
National University of Life Environmental Sciences of Ukraine

The article deals with a history of biological nomenclature, describes the main stages of its formation and scientists who have made the greatest contribution to its development.

Keywords: biological nomenclature, biological terminology, Latin language, scientific names

Category: 10.00.00 Philology

Article reference:
Balalaieva O.Y. The history of the origin of biological nomenclature // Modern scientific researches and innovations. 2020. № 7 [Electronic journal]. URL: https://web.snauka.ru/en/issues/2020/07/92749

View this article in Russian

Biology (from Greek. bios ‘life’ and logos ‘word, studies’) is a complex of sciences about living nature. The subject of biology is all manifestations of life: structure and functions of living organisms, their origin and development, relations between them and lifeless nature. A term “biology” was offered in 1802 by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus, although it was used earlier – in works by T. Roose (in 1797) and K. F. Burdach (in 1800).

By research object following sciences is distinguished: botany (from Greek botane ‘plant, grass’) – science about plants, zoology (from Greek zoon ‘animal’ and logos ‘studies’) – science about animals, anatomy (from Greek anatome ‘dissection’) – science about body structure and other. These are the most general, complex biological disciplines, which have plenty of own branches sometimes considered as independent sciences. Like any science, biology has its terminology and nomenclature – a complex of the scientific names and nomina, used in botany, zoology and other biological sciences.

History of biological terminology dates back to ancient times. Ancient Greece is considered as a birthplace of many modern natural sciences.

One of the most prominent scientists of the ancient world was Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.). Не created one of the clearest scientific systems, based on huge empiric material taken both from natural and social areas. In the field of biology, Aristotle developed doctrine based on the study of expediency in the structure of living organisms: he examined the development of organic structures from an embryo as a fact of manifestation of expedience in nature. Aristotle’s famous work is “History of animals”, in which he described and classified about 500 species of animals, served as a foundation for the majority of next works on the natural history of antiquity and middle ages.

Another ancient Greek scientist Theophrastus (371 – 287 B.C.), the real name of whom was Tyrtamus, was called the “father of botany”. He got a sobriquet Theophrastus (‘having a divine language’) from his teacher Aristotle for brilliant oratorical talent. We know only two large works of Theophrastus devoted to the botany: “Historia plantarum” and “On the Causes of Plants”.

“Historia plantarum” corresponds to modern morphology, anatomy and systematization of plants. Theophrastus divided all vegetable kingdom into 4 divisions: trees, shrub, bushes and herbs, and each of divisions on 2 groups: wild and cultural plants.

Another Theophrastus work “On the Causes of Plants” is handling the same factual material but under another point of view. In essence, it is devoted to the theoretical and applied questions of the physiology of plants. Theophrastus described the ways of reproduction and growth of plants thoroughly, the influence of external factors on their life. He devoted considerable attention to such practical questions of gardening and agronomics as cultivation of plants, reproduction by seed, artificial pollination, grafting. Theophrastus inculcated a lot of botanical terms. Some of them are used today, in particular the names of vital forms of plants: trees, bushes, herbs. Clearly, that all terms at that time were in Greek [3].

In the II century B.C. Rome conquered Greece; as a result, Roman and Greek cultures were interacted. Romans which had not such developed scientific tradition began to master the vocabulary of Greek sciences. With new concepts, they adopted words, that denote them. At the same time another process was taking place – formation actually of the Latin terms for denotation of scientific concepts [2].

One of the most prominent natural scientists of Ancient Rome was Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 – 79 year A.D.), an аuthor of 160 books. But just оne of all his works survived. It is a “Natural History”, which consists of 37 books and is original encyclopedia of knowledge about nature, accumulated in the ancient world. 4 books are devoted to physics and geography, 5 – to description and classification of animal kingdom, and 21 – to the vegetable reign. Other books were about an inorganic nature. According to the author, for writing this work he had to study about two thousand volumes. “Natural history” of Plinius Major was an authoritative source from which information about the environment nature was taken and quoted in manuals on different sciences for many years.

In Medieval Ages interest to natural sciences diminished considerably. But in the Renaissance, the scientists appeal to the ancient scientific inheritance again.

The so-called “herbals” – the short descriptions of medical plants appeared later, as the development of biological knowledge at that time was determined, mainly, by priorities of medicine. After an invention in the XV century of book-printing, herbals began to be published regularly. From the scientific point of view, these works were incorrect and full of superstitions, but their appearance stimulated development of botany. As a rule, the authors of herbals were doctors, interested in the healing properties of plants. However, a necessity to distinguish various plants caused them to be attentive in descriptions and illustrations.

Herbals were published until the end of the XVI century, but scientists were interested in plants, regardless of their medical properties. Accumulated descriptions of plants needed certain systematization. In the XVI century, A.Chezalpino classified plants based on the structure of their flowers, fruits and seeds. In the XVII century, R.Morison distinguished some “natural” groups of plants, in particular families of Umbellate (Umbelliferae) and Crucifate. English naturalist J. Ray went farther, uniting families in the groups of higher rank. He paid attention to the importance of a number of cotyledons in classification, suggesting to distinguish monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants. He defined the concept “species” and created the first classification of Vertebrata.

All these tendencies found the most complete and successive embodiment in works of the Swedish scientist-naturalist Charles Linney (1707 – 1778), the founder of scientific biological systematization. He initiated the exact and concrete terminology in descriptions of plants and animals (before him terms were characterized by such diffusion and entanglement, that determination of plants and animals was almost impossible).

Another important contribution of Linney was the introduction of binominal biological nomenclature. In his work “Systema Naturae” (1735) he suggested denoting any species of plant or animal by two Latin words – family name and specific epithet. This laconic nomenclature replaced multiword descriptions and that removed the great number of difficulties and errors. With the introduction of the new system of the double names, the denotations of species of plants and animals became considerably shorter. For example, one of species of wild rose used to be named Rosa of caule aculeato, pedunculis hispidis, calycibus semipinnatis glabris Wild rose with a spiked stem, bristly flowered, half-feathered by smooth sepals; in a Linnean nomenclature the name of this species is expressed only in couple words: Rosa centifolia [3].

Linney discovered and described about 2,000 types of plants. Alongside with it he offered a new classification of plants, which although and was artificial, but was enough useful. He classified plants based on number and location of stamens, pestles and fruit-leaf (reproductive structures of flower). Such “sexual” system due to simplicity and easiness got wide recognition.

Thus, Linney systematized almost all accumulated factual material on the botany and zoology, which had been before in the chaotic state; defined such taxonomic ranks as family, order, class, that was very important for subsequent development of the classification of the vegetable and animal world.

Modern botanical and zoological nomenclatures originate in Linnean classical works. Today under the term “biological nomenclature” we understand the system of the scientific names for denotation of groups of organisms which are bound by a certain degree of cognation – taxons (from Greek ‘order’) [1].

Systematics is a branch of biology, which describes and denotes all existing and extinct organisms, as well as classifies them by different categories. Systematics is divided into two parts: theoretical – taxonomy and practical – classification.

Quite often, terms the “systematics”, “classification” and “taxonomy” are used as synonyms. But taxonomy develops theoretical base of classification of organisms, and systematization denotes, names and describes biological objects as well as creates their systems. So, classification is a division of living organisms by the features of similarity in the hierarchical system.

Taxonomy is a part of systematics, which studies a system of denoting subordinated groups of objects. Taxonomy deals with such concepts as “taxonomic rank” and “taxon”. Concept “taxonomic rank” is used to denote subordinated groups of animals and plants, which differ by the degree of relationship. Taxonomic ranks mean not real organisms but the categories of their classification grades or hierarchy degrees.

The main taxonomic ranks are the following: species, genus, family, order, class, division (for plants) / phyllum (for animals), kingdom. Taxonomic ranks are given to concrete separated groups of related organisms – taxons (from Greek taxis – order).

  1. Балалаева Е. Ю.  Content of Latin plant names // Сельское, лесное и водное хозяйство. 2015. № 5. URL: http://agro.snauka.ru/en/2015/05/2357 (дата обращения: 03.05.2020).
  2. Балалаева Е. Ю. Электронные ресурсы для изучения латыни // Психология, социология и педагогика. 2014. № 4. URL: http://psychology.snauka.ru/2014/04/2978 (дата обращения: 23.06.2020).
  3. Hrytsenko S.P., Balalayeva O.Y. Latin language for the students-agrobiologists: manual. Kyiv: Tcentr uchbovoi literatury, 2008, 240 p.

Artice view count: Please wait

All articles of author «Балалаева Елена Юрьевна»

© If you have found a violation of copyrights please notify us immediately by e-mail or feedback form.

Contact author (comments/reviews)

Write comment

You must authorise to write a comment.

Если Вы еще не зарегистрированы на сайте, то Вам необходимо зарегистрироваться:
  • Register