List of Latin and Greek words commonly used in systematic names

List of Latin and Greek words commonly used in systematic names


This list of Latin and Greek words commonly used in systematic names is intended to help those unfamiliar with classical languages to understand and remember the scientific names of organisms. The binomial nomenclature used for animals and plants is largely derived from Latin and Greek words, as are some of the names used for higher taxa, such as orders and above. At the time when biologist Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778) published the books which are now accepted as the starting point of binomial nomenclature, Latin was used in Western Europe as the common language of science, and scientific names were in Latin or Greek: Linnaeus continued this practice.

Although Latin is now largely unused except by classical scholars, or for certain purposes in botany, medicine and the Roman Catholic Church, Latin can still be found in scientific names. It is helpful to be able to understand the source of scientific names. While the Latin names do not always correspond to the current English common names, they are often related, and if their meanings are understood, they are easier to recall.

Often a genus name or specific descriptor is simply the Latin or Greek name for the animal (e.g. Canis is Latin for a dog). These words are not included in the table below, because they will only occur for one or two taxa. Instead, the words listed below are the common adjectives and other modifiers that repeatedly occur in the scientific names of many organisms (in more than one genus).

Only root words are listed, while variants are omitted. So, verus is listed without the variants for Aloe vera or Galium verum. Words that are very similar to their English forms have also been omitted.

List of words

In this table L = Latin, G = Greek, and LG = similar in both languages.


Latin/Greek Language English Example
acaulis G ἄκαυλος Stemless Stemless Gentian, Gentiana acaulis; Dwarf Thistle, Cirsium acaule
acutus L Sharpened, pointed American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus; Angled Sunbeam (Butterfly), Curetis acuta; Northern Pintail duck, Anas acuta
agrestis G ἀγρός Of the field, wild Field Vole, Microtus agrestis; Green Field-speedwell, Veronica agrestis
albus L White American White Ibis, Eudocimus albus; White Oak, Quercus alba; Mistletoe, Viscum album
americana L American American Black Bear, Ursus americanus; American Hazel Nut, Corylus americana
amphi- G ἀμφί Of all kinds, on all sides Amphipoda; Amphibian
ampulla L Bottle, flask Northern Bottlenose Whale, Hyperoodon ampullatus
anthropos G ἄνθρωπος Man, human being Paranthropus
apis L bee Salvia apiana, white sage
aquaticus L Found near water Eastern Mole, Scalopus aquaticus
archaeos, archaeo- G ἀρχαῖος, ἀρχαιο- Ancient Archaeopteryx
arctos G ἄρκτος Bear Grizzly Bear, Ursus arctos horribilis; Common Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
argentatus L Silvery Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
arthron G ἄρθρον Joint Arthropoda
arvensis L In the field Skylark, Alauda arvensis
astron, astro-, astero- G ἄστρον, ἀστρο-, ἀστερο- Star Starfish (class), Asteroidea
aureus L Golden, gold coin Golden Jackal, Canis aureus; Staphylococcus aureus (bacteria)
australis L Southern Southern Right Whale, Eubalaena australis


Latin/Greek Language English Example
baccata L Berry-bearing Common Yew, Taxus baccata
blanda L Pleasant, smooth, alluring Greek Windflower, Anemone blanda
borealis L Northern Northern Right Whale Dolphin, Lissodelphis borealis
brachion G βραχίων Arm Przewalski's Gerbil, Brachiones przewalskii; Brachiopoda (phylum); Brachiosaurus
brachys, brachy- G βραχύς, βραχυ- Short Brazilian Gold Frog, Brachycephalus didactylus
bradys, brady- G βραδύς, βραδυ- Slow Pygmy Three-toed Sloth, Bradypus pygmaeus
branchia LG βράγχια Gills Lamellibranchia (class, syn. Bivalva); Branchiopoda (class, brine shrimps)
brevis L Short Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Ceratogymna brevis


Latin/Greek Language English Example
caecus L Blind Blind Mole, Talpa caeca; Northern Eyed Hawkmoth, Smerinthus caecus
caeruleus L Blue Blue Tit, Parus caeruleus; Blue Passion Flower, Passiflora caerulea
canadensis L From Canada Bighorn Sheep, Ovis canadensis
canis L Dog Coyote, Canis latrans; Dipylidium caninum (a tapeworm)
canus L Gray (haired), pale gray Grey-headed Woodpecker, Picus canus; Woolly Groundsel, Senecio canus
cauda L Tail Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus; Thintail Skate, Dipturus leptocaudus
caulos G καυλός Stem, stalk Stemless Gentian, Gentiana acaulis
cephale, cephalo- G κεφαλή Head Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus; Blue-Spotted Grouper, Cephalopholis argus
ceps L Head Pygmy Sperm Whale, Kogia breviceps
ceros G κέρας Horn Narwal, Monodon monoceros
cestus L Girdle, belt Cestoda
chilensis L From Chile Paradise Tanager, Tangara chilensis
chlorοs G χλωρός Green Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus
chroma G χρῶμα Color Clown Loach, Chromobotia macracanthus
cneme G κνήμη Shin, leg White-legged Damselfly, Platycnemis pennipes
cola L Dweller Eurasian Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola
corax G κόραξ Crow, raven Common Raven, Corvus corax
coronatus L Crowned Crowned Lemur, Eulemur coronatus
costatus L Ribbed Striped Raphael catfish, Platydoras costatus
crass- L Thick Creeping Blueberry, Vaccinium crassifolium
cristatus L Crested Aardwolf, Proteles cristatus
crocos G κρόκος Yellow Saffron, Crocus sativus; Bicoloured White-toothed Shrew, Crocidura leucodon
cyanos G κυανός Blue-green Azure-winged Magpie, Cyanopica cyana


Latin/Greek Language English Example
dactylοs G δάκτυλος Finger or toe Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla
deca G δέκα Ten Alfonsino, Beryx decadactylus
decem L Ten Colorado Potato Beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata
derma G δέρμα Skin Yellow Staining Mushroom, Agaricus xanthodermus
di- G δι- Two Christmas Orchid, Dipodium punctatum
didelphis G δίδελφυς Double-wombed Didelphis virginiana
dino-, deino- G δεινός, δεινο- Terrible dinosaur, Deinotherium
diplo- G διπλός, διπλο- Double Two-eyed Orange Spider, Diploglena capensis
disc-, disk- G δίσκος Disc Common Fungus Moth, Metalectra discalis
dodeca G δώδεκα Twelve Henderson's Shootingstar, Dodecatheon hendersonii
dolicho- G δόλιχος Elongated, long Knight Anole, Anolis dolichocephalus
domesticus L From the house, domestic House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
dorsum L Back Back-striped Weasel, Mustela strigidorsa
dulcis L Sweet Almond, Prunus dulcis


Latin/Greek Language English Example
eburneus, eburni- L Ivory-colored Ivory Gull, Pagophila eburnea
echinatus G ἐχῖνος Prickly, spiny Edisto Crayfish, Procambarus echinatus; Shortleaf Pine, Pinus echinata
echinos, echino- G ἐχῖνος Hedgehog, sea-urchin, spiny Great Globe Thistle, Echinops sphaerocephalus; Diadema Urchin, Echinothrix diadema; San Pedro Cactus, Echinopsis pachanoi
edulis L Edible Oyster, Ostrea edulis; Common Cockle, Cerastoderma edule, Passion Fruit, Passiflora edulis
elatior L Taller True Oxlip, Primula elatior
electr- G ἤλεκτρον 1. Amber, amber-colored;
2. Electric (modern usage)
Broad-billed Motmot, Electron platyrhynchum;
Electric Eel, Electrophorus electricus
elegans L Elegant Crimson Rosella, Platycercus elegans
enanti G ἔναντι Opposite Enantiornithes
ennea G ἐννέα Nine Scurvy-grass Sorrel, Oxalis enneaphylla; Banded Sunfish Enneacanthus obesus
ensatus L Sword-like California Giant Salamander, Dicamptodon ensatus
ensi-, ensis L Sword, lance Jackknife Clam, Ensis minor; Swordleaf Rush, Juncus ensifolius
erectus L Upright Homo erectus ("upright man"); Upright Chickweed, Moenchia erecta
erion, erio- G ἔριον Wool, woolly Common Cottongrass, Eriophorum angustifolium
erosus L Indented, jagged, serrated Jícama, Pachyrhizus erosus; Serrated Hinge-back Tortoise, Kinixys erosa
erythros, erythro- G ἐρυθρός Red[1][2] Spotted Redshank, Tringa erythropus; Dog's-tooth Violet, Erythronium dens-canis


Latin/Greek Language English Example
familiaris L Domestic, common Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
felis L Cat Black-footed Cat, Felis nigripes; Cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis
flavus L Golden yellow, light yellow Yellow Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia flava; Yellow-necked Mouse, Apodemus flavicollis
flor- L Flower Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora; Great White Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum
folium L Leaf American Beech, Fagus grandifolia
fulvus L Deep yellow, tawny Pacific Golden Plover, Pluvialis fulva; Yellow Ground Squirrel, Spermophilus fulvus
fuscus L Dark, dark brown Sooty Tern, Sterna fuscata; Dusky Hopping Mouse, Notomys fuscus


Latin/Greek Language English Example
gaster, gastro-, gastr- G γαστήρ Belly Common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster
geo- G γαῖα, γῆ Earth Geography, Geology
glabra L glaber Smooth;[1] hairless Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra; Omphiscola glabra (a snail)
glycys G γλυκύς Sweet Soybean, Glycine max
gyrinos G γυρῖνος Tadpole Spring Salamander Gyrinophilus porphyriticus; e.g. Crassigyrinus, Proterogyrinus


Latin/Greek Language English Example
haema-, hema- G αἷμα Blood Haemosporida; Bacteria sp., Haemophilus influenzae
hali-, halio- G ἅλς Of the sea, salt Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus; Black Abalone, Haliotis cracherodii
haplo- G ἁπλόος Simple, single Mountain Beaver, Apoldontia rufa; Mongolosaurus haplodon
hedra- G ἕδρα Seat, facet Chinese Ephedra, Ephedra sinica; (Polyhedron; Tetrahedron)
heli-, helio- G ἥλιος Sun Sunflower, Helianthus annuus; Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia
hexa- G ἕξα- Six Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala
hippo- G ἵππος Horse Seahorse, Hippocampus; Lesser Horseshoe Bat, Rhinolophus hipposideros
hirsuta L Hairy Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta; Hairy Fruit-eating Bat, Artibeus hirsutus
homo L Human, man Modern human, Homo sapiens; Neanderthal, Homo neanderthalensis
hortensis L From the garden Orphean Warbler, Sylvia hortensis
hydro- G ὕδωρ, ὑδρο- Water Chinese Water Deer, Hydropotes inermis
hyper- G ὑπέρ Over, above St John's Wort, Hypericum perforatum
hypo-, hyp- G ὑπό Under, beneath Zebra Pleco catfish, Hypancistrus zebra; Common Cat's-ear, Hypochoeris radicata


Latin/Greek Language English Example
indicus L Indian Malaysian Tapir, Tapirus indicus


Latin/Greek Language English Example
kestos (see Latin cestus) G κεστός Girdle, literally "stitched" Cestoda


Latin/Greek Language English Example
lateralis L Side Black-flanked Rock-wallaby, Petrogale lateralis
latus L Flank Horse-eye jack, Caranx latus
lepis G λεπίς a scale, rind, husk, flake Liza macrolepis Large-scale mullet
lepton G λεπτόν Light Leptictidium auderiense, Leptospira kirschneri
lepus L Hare Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
leucοs G λευκός White White-winged Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus
lineatus L Lined or striped Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata
lutea L Yellow, saffron-colored Yellow Vetch, Vicia lutea; Red-billed Leiothrix, Leiothrix lutea


Latin/Greek Language English Example
macro G μακρός Long, Large Big-headed Mole Rat, Tachyoryctes macrocephalus
maculatus L Spotted Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius
major L Greater Great Tit, Parus major
malabaricus L From Malabar Chestnut-tailed Starling, Sturnus malabaricus
mauro- G μαῦρος, μαυρο- Dark, Black Dark Shrew, Crocidura maurisca
maximus L Largest Royal Tern, Sterna maxima
megas G μέγας Large, great Megalodon shark, Carcharodon megalodon
mephitis L Bad odor Striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis
melano- G μελανός, μελανο- Black Black-browed Albatross, Thalassarche melanophris
micro G μικρόν small Littleleaf Pussytoes, Antennaria microphylla
minimus L Smallest Least Flycatcher, Empidonax minimus
minor L Smaller Great Frigatebird, Fregata minor
mono- G μονός, μονο- Single Swinhoe's Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma monorhis
montanus L Mountains Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus
morpho- G μορφή Shape Menelaus Blue Morpho, Morpho menelaus
mys G μῦς Mouse As rodent, e.g. Phoberomys, Telicomys.


Latin/Greek Language English Example
nanοs G νάνος Dwarf Brown-capped Woodpecker, Dendrocopos nanus
nona L Ninth Honey Fungus Armillaria nabsnona
nothos G νόθος False, wrong Bluefin Notho Killifish, Nothobranchius rachovii; New Zealand Red Beech, Nothofagus fusca
notos G νότος Southern Fawn Hopping Mouse, Notomys cervinus
novaehollandiae L From New Holland (Australia) Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
novaeseelandiae L From New Zealand Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae
noveboracensis L From New York (Novum Eboracum) Northern Waterthrush, Seiurus noveboracensis
novem L Nine Nine-banded Armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus


Latin/Greek Language English Example
obscurus L Dark Dusky Dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obscurus
occidentalis L Western Eastern Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis
ocean G ὠκεανός Ocean Posidonia oceanica
octo-, octa- G ὀκτω-, ὀκτα- Eight Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris
-odon, -odus G ὀδών, ὀδούς Tooth Dimetrodon, Rhizodus
oeso- G οἰσέμεν, οἰσ- Carry Oesophagostomum, Oesophagostomum bifurcum
officinalis L For the workshop; medicinal Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
oleum L Oil Jack O'Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus olearius
ophis G Serpent Carphophis vermis Western wormsnake
ops G ὤψ Face Triceratops
opsis G ὄψις Face, appearance Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis
orientalis L Eastern Oriental cockroach, Blatta orientalis
ortho- G ὀρθός, ὀρθο- Straight Orthoptera


Latin/Greek Language English Example
pachy- G παχύς, παχυ- Thick, stout Pachycephalosaurus
palustris L Of the marsh Mugger Crocodile, Crocodylus palustris
pan- panto- G πᾶν, genitive παντός All Pancratium (a flower)
parvus L Small Mountain Pygmy Possum, Burramys parvus
pedi- L pes, pedis Foot Showy Lady Slipper, Cypripedium reginae
pelag- G πέλαγος Open sea Pelagic Cormorant, Phalacrocorax pelagicus
penn- L penna Feather (specifically remex) Great Auk, Pinguinus impennis
pennatus L Feathered Booted Eagle, Aquila pennata
penta- G πέντα- Five Five-Fingered Skink, Chalcides pentadactylus
petra G πέτρα Rock, stone Rock Daisy, Erigeron petrophilus; Roberts's Flat-headed Bat, Sauromys petrophilus
phago G φάγο eat Scatophagus tetracanthus African scat (fish)
pholis, pholid- L Scale Green-Spotted Grouper, Cephalopholis argus
phyllo- G φύλλον Leaf Garden Lupin, Lupinus polyphyllus
physi- G φύσις Nature Symphysia ("naturally joined") (a plant)[3]
phyto- G φυτόν Plant Astrophytum, Astrophytum myriostigma (a cactus)
platy- G πλατύς, πλατυ- Flat and broad Flathead Trout, Salmo platycephalus
poly- G πολύς, πολυ- Many Common Knotgrass, Polygonum aviculare; Polymer
pratensis L To the meadow Meadow Foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis
protos G πρῶτος First Protozoa
pseudes G ψευδής False or fake Pastel flower, Pseuderanthemum variabile
pter- G πτερόν Wing or remix White-winged Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus
pubescens L Downy Downy Oak, Quercus pubescens
pulchellus L Pretty little[4] Green Pygmy Goose, Nettapus pulchellus
punctatus L Spotted Thirteen-spotted Lady Beetle, Hippodamia tredecimpunctata


Latin/Greek Language English Example
repandus L Curved upwards, turned up Peruvian Apple Cactus, Cereus repandus; Hedgehog Mushroom, Hydnum repandum
repens L 1. Creeping, crawling (rēpens);
2. Unexpected (rĕpens)
Creeping Buttercup, Ranunculus repens; White Clover, Trifolium repens
reptans L Creeping, crawling Creeping Cinquefoil, Potentilla reptans; Reptilia
rhis, rhino- G ῥις, ῥινο- Nose Orange Leaf-nosed Bat, Rhinonicteris aurantia
rhiza G ῥίζα Root Bushy Seedbox, Ludwigia helminthorrhiza; Rhizobium (nitogen-fixing soil bacteria)
rhynchos G ῥύγχος Beak or snout Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
rhyti-, rhytis G ῥυτίς Wrinkled, folded Shaggy Moss, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus; Rhytidodon (syn. Rutiodon)
rostra L Beak, bill, snout Common Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra
rostralis L With a beak Buttoned Snout moth, Hypena rostralis
ruber, rubra, rubrum L Red Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber; Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra; Red Maple, Acer rubrum
rufus L Reddish, red Red Wolf, Canis rufus


Latin/Greek Language English Example
sanguis L Blood Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
sapiens L Wise recent subspecies of humans: Homo sapiens sapiens ("very wise man")
sativus L Sown, cultivated Pea, Pisum sativum
saura, -saur G σαύρα Lizard Lancetfish, Alepisaurus; Maiasaura (dinosaur)
septem- L seven Seven-spot Ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata
silvestris L Of the wood; wild Wild Cat, Felis silvestris
sinensis L From China Tea, Camellia sinensis
specios- L showy Queen's Crape-myrtle, Lagerstroemia speciosa; Japanese Lily, Lilium speciosum
sperma G σπέρμα Seed African daisies, Osteospermum
sphen- G σφήν Wedge Tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus
stoma G στόμα Mouth, opening Stomate, Gnathostomata
striatus L Striped Striated Heron, Butorides striatus
suchοs G σοῦχος Crocodile (from Egyptian) Eusuchia, Koolasuchus


Latin/Greek Language English Example
tardus, tardi- L Slow, late Great Bustard, Otis tarda; Chisos Mountains Oak, Quercus tardifolia
tele-, tel- G τηλε- Far, distant New South Wales Waratah, Telopea speciosissima
tenuis L Thin, slender, fine Slender Rush, Juncus tenuis; Plealeaf Knotweed, Polygonum tenue
tetra- G τετρα- Four Four-leaved Allseed, Polycarpon tetraphyllum; Tetrapoda
tinctorius L For dyeing Woad, Isatis tinctoria
tomentosus L Furry Fuzzy Mock-orange, Philadelphus tomentosus
tres, tris, tri- L G τρία Three Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla
trich-, thrix G θρίξ, τριχ- Hair Cloud ear fungus, Auricularia polytricha
triquetrus L Triangular, three-cornered Three-cornered Garlic, Allium triquetrum


Latin/Greek Language English Example
unus L One Monotropa uniflora
ura G οὐρά Of the tail Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura


Latin/Greek Language English Example
variabilis L Variable Grey Bunting, Emberiza variabilis
variegatus L Variegated Variegated Laughingthrush, Garrulax variegatus; Croton, Codiaeum variegatum
velox, velocis L Swift Swift Fox, Vulpes velox; Velociraptor
ventralis L Ventral, of the belly Hispaniolan Parrot, Amazona ventralis; Southern Dwarf Chameleon, Bradypodion ventrale
vernus, vernalis L Spring Spring Gentian, Gentiana verna; Spring Pheasant's Eye, Adonis vernalis
verrucosus L Rough skinned Javan Warty Pig, Sus verrucosus; Reef Stonefish, Synanceia verrucosa
versicolor L Many-colored Varied Honeyeater, Lichenostomus versicolor; Vietnam Mouse-deer, Tragulus versicolor
verus L True, genuine True Aloe, Aloe vera; Lady's Bedstraw, Galium verum
villosus L Hairy, shaggy Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus; Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa
viridis L Green Green Alder, Alnus viridis; Frog Orchid, Coeloglossum viride
virosus L Poisonous Poisonous Lettuce, Lactuca virosa; Cowbane, Cicuta virosa
volans L Flying Southern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomys volans
vulgaris L Common Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris; Common Privet, Ligustrum vulgare

W, X, Y, Z

Latin/Greek Language English Example
xanthos G ξανθός Yellow Yellow Staining Mushroom, Agaricus xanthodermus
zygos G ζυγός Joined Zygoptera

See also


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