Who Invented the System of Binomial Nomenclature and How Did Carl Linnaeus’s System of Classification Work?

Carl Linnaeus had a much bigger task ahead of him than Aristotle did.

By the mid 1700s there were 7,700 known species of plants, 4,400 known species of animals, and still no classification system.

It was an age of exploration and more and more plants and animals were being brought into Europe from around the world. Linnaeus said, “Without a system, chaos reigns.”

Naturalists could not share information because there were no common scientific names for any plants.

Linnaeus would bring an end to the chaos with a system that is still used today. The system started with a brief description of each species, or kind, of plant or animal.

Next, he grouped each collection of similar species into a genus. He then gave each specimen two Latin names, one for its genus and one for its species.

For example, the house cat and the lion belong to the same genus, Felis, but they are different species of cat. The house cat’s classification is Fells domesticus and the lion is Felis leo.

Even humans have a classification in this system: Homo sapiens, meaning “man that is wise.”

The two-name system is called binomial nomenclature and is similar to how human names like John Smith developed.

Linnaeus was not through. He went on to group similar genera (plural for genus) into orders, similar orders into classes, and similar classes into kingdoms. When he was finished, he was able to group all living things into two basic kingdoms: plants and animals.

The system was an immediate hit. Naturalists now had a single language in which they could communicate.

Simple two-word names in Latin, a language most scientists already knew, now identified specific species. Use of the system spread very quickly through Linnaeus’s writings and teaching.

Linnaeus’s first book on classification contained seven pages. His final, tenth edition contained 2,500 pages.

One botanist, Johann Sieges-beck, rejected Linnaeus’s plant classification system because it was based mainly on the sexual nature of the plants.

Linnaeus reacted by naming a genus of useless European weed Siegesbeckia.