Specific name

In zoological nomenclature, a specific name or specific epithet is the second part (second name) in the name of a species (a binomen). The first part is the name of the genus.

Note that in botanical nomenclature, "epithet" always refers to the specific name, whereas in zoological nomenclature, without qualifiers ("generic"/"specific") it can refer to either part of the binomen.

Example: The scientific name for man is Homo sapiens, which is the species name, consisting of two names: Homo is the "generic name" (the name of the genus) and sapiens the "specific name".


Grammatically, a binomen (and trinomen) must be treated as a Latin phrase, which gives some justification to the popular usage of the phrase "Latin name" for the more correct "scientific name". Grammatically (in Latin grammar), the specific name can be:

  • A noun in apposition with the genus: Panthera leo. The words do not necessarily agree in gender. This is very often a vernacular name, or the name (specific or generic) of a similar organism.
  • A noun in the genitive.
  • An adjective, agreeing in case and gender with the genus: Felis silvestris ("the forest cat")

The same applies to a subspecific name. In zoological nomenclature, a subspecies will have a trinomen, consisting of three names: the third part is the "subspecific name".

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