Those wondering why scientific names are italized ought to remember their biology classes, me too included. Come to think of it, this interesting trivia could have ducked anyone, as it is rather too uninteresting to the common Juan and Maria.

But really, why do scientific names appear as they do, and how are organisms named as such? To be honest, I have had no idea until I learned the answers to some "frequently" asked questions from no other than Dr. Ireneo L. Lit, Jr., a systematist and current Director of the UPLB Museum of Natural History, in a seminar held last 14 January at the SESAM Conference Room.

Systema-what? I hear you. Well, truth is, a person who can be an expert in the science of the diversity of all organisms and their relationship do exist in UPLB. Dr. Lit is just one of a few who do taxonomic work, or the theory and practice of classifying and naming organisms.

"Systematists main jobs are to classify, identify and name organisms," Lit said. The director added that "in any scientific study which involves living organisms, the investigator should have them (organisms) correctly identified."

Why is that, you may ask? "Conserving nature and its treasures cannot be done if we do not understand what we do not know," Dr. Lit answered. "How can we understand and know things if we cannot identify them in the first place."

According to Dr. Lit, the scientific naming system is the foundation, "core of all things biology." Therefore, it is important that names given to organisms must be unique, universal and stable. "These properties are very important, they enable scientific names to become easily understood keys to literature on a particular organism." Lit discussed.

To ensure that scientists follow the rules using scientific names, five codes of nomenclature exists. Lit enumerated them as the International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi and Plants; International Code of Zoological Nomenclature; International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria; International Code of Virus Classification and Nomenclature; and lastly, the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.

Going back to the question on why scientific names should be italicised or underscored, Dr. Lit said that it is done to highlight or differentiate them from the other words in an article or book. "Scientific names are in Latin, and not in English which is the universally-used writing language," Lit explained.

However, Dr. Lit also shared that scientific names have increasingly been derived from non-Latin languages. "Names have become latinized, depending on to whom or where the organism has been named from."

Organisms named after a male person thus end on "i," and if after a female, on "ae." Names end with "orum" if they are after a male or mixed group of persons. The patronym "arum" is used for names after an all female group. "ensis" is used when naming an organism after a place.

Whatever name is given to an organism, it should be based on descriptions of the species. "But these information are based on the data available at the time of the description of the taxonomist," Dr. Lit explained.

"Scientific names do change; systematics and taxonomy are dynamic sciences," he added. Lit elaborated that there are advances in technology which now allow scientists to re-examine old names vis-à-vis the specimens.

At this point, Dr. Lit said that it therefore important for students to have their scientific names checked by specialists at the Museum of Natural History.

"Verification of scientific names in the titles/ text of theses and dissertations of UPLB students is an exclusive service of the Museum to the UPLB Graduate School. The student should bring their outlines to our office and we will have our curators and specialists check the names used." Lit said.


Planning a visit? Locate us here