Feb 22

Many of the world’s weird and wonderful species names have been determined by taxonomists but the reasons behind the names vary greatly. Some species names honour a great naturalist or explorer, others are in recognition of a particular individual dedicated to the conservation of a particular species, and some are purley named after someone the taxonomist was rather fond of!

-i’, ‘-ae’ and ‘-orum’

In taxonomy, when a species’ scientific name comes from the name of a person, the suffix ‘-i’ is attached for a male, ‘-ae’ for a female and ‘-orum’ for a couple.

Adélie penguin image

The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) was named by Jules Dumont d'Urville after his wife Adéle

Weddell seal image

The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is named after British sealing captain James Weddell










Pere David’s deer

Father (‘Pere’ in French) David, was a Catholic missionary, zoologist and botanist who travelled to China and collected natural history specimens. On his travels he discovered, among many other species, the giant panda and Pere David’s deer, which were previously unknown in Europe. Pere David’s deer was presumably already extinct in the wild; however, Pere David observed the last remaining herd and inspired an unfortunately unsuccessful drive to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Pere David's stag image

Pere David's deer is classified as Extinct in the Wild

Thomas Bewick

Thomas Bewick was an English wood engraver who had an insatiable interest in ornithology. He created masterpieces detailing birds, which were carved onto wood, and then went on to write and illustrate the History of British Birds which was published in the early 1800’s. Bewick’s swan was named after him just after this death in 1828.

Bewick's swan image

Bewick's swan preening

De Brazza

De Brazza was a French explorer who was an early coloniser of the Republic of the Congo. He is remembered by both the species de Brazza’s monkey and the capital city of Congo, Brazzaville, the name of which remains today as well as a monument in his honour.

De Brazza's monkey image

De Brazza's monkey

Owl-faced guenon

The scientific name of the owl-faced guenon (Cercopithecus hamlyni) is derived from the eccentric animal dealer John. D. Hamlyn who first brought this species to London Zoo.

Owl-faced guenon image

Owl-faced guenon

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin lends his name to many species of animal and plant, including Darwin’s orchid, Chile Darwin’s frog, Darwin’s fox and Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are a group of around 14 different finches all endemic to the Galapagos Islands, except for the Cocos finch, which lives on a small island 600 kilometres northeast called Cocos. These closely related birds show how natural selection can lead to the evolution of many different species from a single lineage. Darwin’s finches include the mangrove finch, large ground finch, warbler finch, vegetarian finch, sharp-beaked ground finch and many more.

Darwin's orchid image

This beautiful orchid is endemic to Madagascar


Carl Linné, or Linnaeus, is often called the ‘father of modern taxonomy’ due to his invention of the modern system of identifying all species of plant, animal, fungus, single and simple multi-celled organisms and bacteria. This system of two words makes up the name of a species, or three for a subspecies, of which the first word usually describes a biological aspect of the species from a word derived from Latin or Greek. Many reptiles are named after Linnaeus as well as Linné’s two-toed sloth.

Linne's two-toed sloth image

Linne's two-toed sloth, otherwise known as the southern two-toed sloth

Spiders from Mars

Was it the bright yellow hair that prompted the naming of the David Bowie spider (Heteropoda davidbowie)?

David Bowie spider image

Aside from the yellow hair, are there any other physical characteristics linking David Bowie with his arachnid namesake?

Lemurs from Madagascar

The Bemahara woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei) is named after famous English actor John Cleese, due to his fondness for lemurs and efforts towards promoting their conservation.

Bemaraha woolly lemur image

Bemaraha woolly lemur, also known as Cleese's woolly lemur with young

What about me?

This proves there are many ways to have a species named after you, even without trekking through the deepest Indian rainforest to find one yourself!

Western Ghats, India image

Unidentified species, where are you?

With new species being found every day who will be honoured next? mulvanyae has a nice ring to it!

Let us know in the comments below if you can think of any good potential species names or people who deserve to have an animal or plant named after them.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

  • Juan Rodrequez Forgalilo (February 25th, 2012 at 12:11 am):

    What a well written blog. Really enjoy this read. I have a keen interest in taxonomy and it’s nice to see this written so nicely.