How Scientific names are written

How Scientific names are written

In scientific writing, accurate terminology is imperative. Consequently, owing to the existing taxonomy, scientists use standard terms.

Plant and animal naming and classification has existed throughout history, but it wasn’t always standardized.

In the eighteenth century, scientists like Carl Linnaeus made important contributions to the foundation of an international system of how scientific names are written.

So many new discoveries have been made about the organisms that naming them becomes difficult, thereby taxonomy and scientific nomenclature were established.

In a modern taxonomy system, it is possible to refer to the same species, regardless of the language spoken. In the field of science, this framework guides all research aimed at gaining a better grasp of living organisms and how they interact.

Here’s how scientific names are written

It is essential to understand that a scientific name for a species – whether plant, animal, bacterium, fungus, etc. – is composed of two parts: one genus, two genera, and then the specie’s name, known as binomial nomenclature.

How does binomial nomenclature work?

In 1753, Linnaeus introduced his binomial nomenclature, which has been widely adopted since.

Biological species are labelled with Latin names that include two key elements:

It’s the genus followed by the species

The basic rule of how scientific names are written

  1. The genus should be followed by the species name.
  2. All names should be italicized.
  3. Don’t capitalize anything other than the genus name.

[Please keep in mind, however, that a scientific name may include a subspecies, if it is relevant to identify the species.]

The names of all scientific organisms are defined by international codes.

Example: The scientific name of the tiger is Panthera tigris

A scientific name in Latin, such as Panthera tigris, will always be italicized, and its first word will be capitalized.

Here, Panthera is used to denote the genus and tigris is used to indicate the species. The combination of these two elements makes up a tiger’s scientific name.

The classification system has seven classes

Only genus, species, and subspecies (if applicable) contribute to taxonomy, the standard binomial scientific nomenclature. Take tiger, for example.

  1. Kingdom: Animalia – all animals are included in this category.
  2. Phylum: Chordata (class of vertebrates) – animals with chordates and backbones belong to this classification.
  3. Class: Mammalia-mammals with hair and mammary glands fall under this category.
  4. Order: Carnivora, which includes all types of carnivores.
  5. Family: Felidae— domestic and wild cats fall into this family.
  6. Genus: Panthera— a category of large, roaring cats.
  7. Species: Tigris— a certain type of big cat that hunts and is wild.

Five of the eight recognized subspecies of tiger exist today (Bengal, Amur, Indochina, Sumatran and South China tigers). The physical characteristics of these subspecies differ, as do the geographical distributions and their hair types and stripping.

Formatting scientific names for academic writing


There may be differences between styles and publications. It is almost always necessary to italicize any animal or plant’s scientific name. It is a basic guideline when it comes to how scientific names are written.


Likewise, you should capitalize the genus at the beginning of a scientific name. You should use lowercase for species and subspecies.

Using abbreviations for genus names

When the genus is used for the first time, it is possible to abbreviate the name: Panthera t. Tigris for Bengal tigers. Please do not abbreviate if you are listing species that have a similar letter but belong to distinct genera.

Classifications of taxonomy above genus

Generally, higher taxonomic levels should be capitalized (family, order, class, phylum or division, and kingdom) but do not to italicize them. There are some special cases, though: bacteria, fungi, and viruses should also be italicized at the family level.


As with the species, the subspecies is consistently in the lower case and italicized. When both the species and subspecies are the same, as in the case of the tiger Panthera tigris tigris, the species abbreviation is not necessary, as is the case with Panthera t. Tigris.

Species unknown or not specified

An unidentified species should be abbreviated with “sp.” It is pluralized as “spp.” For instance, the forest was home to many Cladonia species (Cladonia spp.). The “sp.” and “spp.” do not appear in italics. When a species is described for the first time, it is referred to as “sp. Novo.”

The names of the discoverers

Following the scientific name is sometimes the abbreviation or full name of the researcher who coined the species or discovered the organism (e.g., “. Carolus Linnaeus, an eminent scientist whose name was Latinized, was abbreviated to “L.”: “Juncus inflexus L.”). The scientist or the individual’s name is not to be italicized.

A consistent approach

Consistency is an important aspect of scientific writing. It is imperative that you maintain consistency regardless of whether you use the common or scientific name. Check your manuscript’s guidelines carefully before you submit it.

There are different formats for references and citations, headings, and paragraph order. Whenever you write scientific names, you can be confident that the format is the same wherever they are published, no matter which journal you intend to use. You can follow the rules outlined above to ensure consistency.

So with these rules and simple instructions on how scientific names are written, hopefully you will have no trouble writing or understanding them.

In case you are starting a new paper and enjoyed this article, do not forget to check out ‘Research paper: How to write from scratch in 5 easy steps’.

Or if you want a real guide, here’s an awesome e-book to help you write an incredible paper.

You may also enjoy some helpful videos on our youtube channel. Like this one on How to use typography in a scientific infographic.

How to use typography in a scientific infographic

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Fabricio Pamplona is the founder of Mind the Graph - a tool used by over 400K users in 60 countries. He has a Ph.D. and solid scientific background in Psychopharmacology and experience as a Guest Researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry (Germany) and Researcher in D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR, Brazil). Fabricio holds over 2500 citations in Google Scholar. He has 10 years of experience in small innovative businesses, with relevant experience in product design and innovation management. Connect with him on LinkedIn - Fabricio Pamplona.