Scientific names are used to help classify and record the vast array of living and extinct organisms. These names allow the scientific community to have a common database of names. Without them, communication about different organisms is cumbersome.
The classification used to describe species is called binomial nomenclature, and each organism is given a general name for the family it belongs to and a specific name to identify it. These names are given in Latin and with Latin-like words, which helps people differentiate between common names and scientific names. Different areas often have different names for the same animals, and some use the same words when referring to different organisms. Binomial nomenclature helps the scientific community stay organized.
Determining how to classify species is difficult. Polar bears and brown bears, for example, are similar, and some scientists believe they are the same species but different subspecies. Dealing with ancient dinosaurs is even more complex. A set of fossils one scientist believes to be a unique species might be a juvenile of a species already discovered and classified. Since genetic information is generally unavailable for extinct organisms, the classification of these creatures often changes over time as new fossils are discovered.