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What’s your name?

There are often many names for a single species because of a community’s culture or a region’s history. For example, the ruffed grouse is often mistakenly called a “partridge,” the raccoon is even today sometimes referred to as a “coon” and the ground squirrel becomes a “prairie dog.” When these names are used, they are vernacular names or common names. The language barrier further increases the challenge of understanding each other when it comes to identifying a species.

In order to understand each other properly, scientists have established a naming system for living beings. Each species, whether a plant, an animal or a bacteria, has a binomial name called the scientific name or the Latin name. This name is comprised of two words, somewhat like our traditional “Last name, first name” structure, and the binomial name is always written as “Genus species” and is uniform in all languages. Therefore, scientists from all over the world are always certain to properly understand each other when they talk about a particular animal species. For example, the scientific name for the common raccoon is Procyon lotor, where Procyon is the genus and lotor is the species. The ruffed grouse is called the Bonasa umbellus.

Sometimes a third name is used for a species. For example, Ursus arctos horribilis is a subspecies of brown bear, in this case, the grizzly bear.

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