You’ve probably wondered why plants always have such difficult Latin names.
Actually, the scientific names not only in Latin but also Greek and often a combination of both.
Why do plants have scientific names in Latin and Greek?
The reason is historical. Western Europe was colonized by the Romans who brought with them the script. Local languages were only oral.
Highly educated Romans were fluent in Latin but also in Greek for children from affluent families were taught by Greek slaves.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, monasteries continued the use of Latin and Greek. In cathedral schools and later in universities (from the 11th century), Latin was still part of basic training.
This had the advantage that scholars from across Europe were able to communicate with each other, regardless of their mother tongue. Scholars even used a Latinized version of their name.
When did they begin to use Latin and Greek as scientific names for plants:
There had been attempts since 2650 BC. to classify plants and animals but Carol Linnaeus (Latinized name Carolus Linnaeus) is the one who published Systema Naturae (1735), one of the largest and most influential classification works for the vegetable, animal and mineral kingdoms.
The use of binomial nomenclature was introduced by Gaspard Bauhin in 1623 but he did not use it systematically.
Carol Linnaeus was the first to apply the binomial nomenclature for each species described in his Systema Naturae.
The principle is that the first name of a species is equal to the genus and the second name has a descriptive function.
Why do we still use those scientific names?
Gradually Latin became less important and more works were published in the mother tongue of the scholar.
In the 19th century, the languages most used by scholars were English, French and German. After World War I German lost in importance and now English is the most used language by scientists.
However the scientific names using Latin and Greek are still used and internationally accepted.
Advantage of scientific names:
Using the binomial nomenclature allows us to be clear about the species.
Local and vernacular names are often very different and sometimes cause confusion. Not everyone means the same with yam.
Local common names can also bring confusion about the type of plant: a Christmas rose is not really a rose.
By keeping scientific names, scientists from around the world can be sure that they are talking about the same plant.
The naming is regulated by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN), a codex for nomenclature and classification. The International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT) is an association that regulates the collaboration of botanists for the nomenclature and classification of plants.
- Linnaeus – Systema naturae: Carl von Linné