Where Do I Start With Pronouncing Scientific Names?

Okay so I’ve been identifying for almost a year now, and I always learn the scientific names. Every species I know how to identify, I know the scientific name. BUT… I have no idea how to pronounce them! I would hate to be talking with someone and totally butcher a binomial name like that.
I’m honestly not sure where to start. Is there an app where I can learn? Or a website?
So I’ve heard people say it’s Latin but I’m not entirely sure what Latin is. Sorry if that sounds stupid! I think it’s a language that English and other languages stem from? But I’ve also heard Latin has many accents?

I’m honestly just confused about it. I hated nature until a year ago, so I’m super new to everything here. If someone could help me understand, it would be very appreciated!!


names could be Latin in origin, but they might also be Greek, or the base might be someone’s name, which might be from who knows what other language.

i think you should just pronounce it as it looks to you. i doubt many people are going to judge you for it. if you know a scientific name at all, that’s better than 99.9% of folks out there.

if someone wants to correct you, that’s up to them, but i can tell you that hear people – even well educated people – pronouncing names different ways all the time.

if you want official guidance, i would consult an authority for the particular organism. for example, for plants in middle America, Missouri Botanical Gardens provides pronunciation and etymology guidance for a lot of plants (ex. https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=277224&isprofile=1&adv=ratibida)


I’ve seen it said somewhere/by someone that many of the Latin names are often latinized from their original language to the point that maybe pronounciation isn’t too important? Example:

I know switching iNat to show scientific name first helps a lot in terms of learning the names, but I hope I don’t get called out on proper pronounciation…


Between Latin and (Ancient not Modern) Greek, they are both dead languages. Pronunciation for scholars in ivory towers? But I do like to know what the name means, where it comes from. Some are helpful about the distinguishing feature. Some are named for some random person - not necessarily a botanist with a link to that plant.

I recently learned Ficinia deusta. What does deusta mean … burnt down … it is a reed which springs up after fire. (A pyrophyte as I read in my current book)


Yeah, the scientific names are supposed to be “latinized” … whatever that exactly means. The problem is, that Latin itself is a dead language and basically noone really knows how to pronounce it (although there are of course “best guesses” by experts).
I have worked with people from different parts of the world and those scientifc names are pronounced differently depending where those people come from … even amoung experts within a group.

I would just not worry too much.

btw, it can be super fun diving a bit into latin if you are interested in scientific names… many of those names a pretty telling and you will find certain parts of sientific names over and over again in different goups of organisms, e.g. repens, pratense, maculatum …

A nice place to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Latin_and_Greek_words_commonly_used_in_systematic_names


If the generic and specific epithets are Latin in origin, there are plenty of guides online for learning correct pronunciation and syllable stress, such as Wikiversity, SIUE (opens a PDF), and others. Some may argue it isn’t important, but I think it’s interesting to know and can give you insight into the taxon/taxa.

As stated above though, most people won’t call you out on mis-pronunciation, and if you work in and/or with colleagues from other parts of the world, the pronunciations will most certainly differ.


In general:

Pronounce all the vowels (except diphthongs). Even final “e,” so Cardamine has 4 syllables. The “-ii” masculine possessive ending in species names is 2 syllables (pronounced like ee-eye or ee-ee) but the feminine counterpart “-ae” is one syllable, pronounced like ee.

ch = k

Where does the accent go? In general, from Latin, on the antepenultimate syllable. Which one is that? ultimate = last; penultimate = almost last; antepenultimate = before the almost last So this means stress the third from last syllable. Or get a cheap used copy of Gray’s Manual of Botany (for northeast North America, but has many widespread species) because he writes in the accents.

Realize there will be disagreement, and just tolerate it or even go along with others you know. For example, Callitriche. I say, Cal IT tricky (and, by definition, I’m right). Many people prefer Cal it TRICK y. A friend prefers the eccentric pronunciation Call-it-Richy. I get used to translating among them.

Most important: Pronounce it with confidence! Then everyone else will think they were wrong.


As others have said, say it the way it looks and don’t worry. Professionals don’t all pronounce scientific names the same way.


Maybe it is so, but I can’t not cringe when a teacher pronounces “ae” as two sounds…


Phonetically correct is generally all people ask for. Doesn’t have to be a consistent interpretation of the pronunciation.
As long as you don’t pronounce Felis catus as faylus keetis you’re probably fine.


-ii is by far my favourite taxonomy suffix. Almost disappointed when it just ends with one i


A decent discussion on pronunciation by Michael Charters can be found here.


Keeping it simple, just go one syllable at a time. That’ll get you close enough. And scientists argue over many names as to what the “correct” pronounciation is (especially if you get a Latin or Greek linguistics expert in the conversation.

One syllable at a time! And place the accent on the next-to-last syllable and you’ll be right a lot of the time. Start slowly and keep getting faster until it rolls off the tongue. Even the longest species name–Parastratiosphecomyia stratiosphecomyioides–is easy to say.

Pa ra stra ti o sphe co my i a stra ti o sphe co my i oi des

Now, I have no tips at all for remembering the names–I can’t remember names to save my life.


I’ve met a lot of people - naturalists, educators, enthusiasts, taxonomists, etc etc - and what I’ve learned is that pretty much everybody pronounces things their own way. As long as you’re able to communicate whatever it is you’re talking about to the other person, it’s all good.


Some of the genus names can be found in Merriam Webster, and possibly other online dictionaries. Another good source is Dave’s Garden website because it phonetically writes out how all the plant, insect and other Latin names are to be pronounced, species, genus and family. It’s good to know what the Latin and Greek mean because they help to remember the organism. In Agkistrodon piscivorus (don’t know if I spelled that right), the pisci means fish and the vor means eat, so the snake eats fish. The don means tooth in Greek and the Agkistro means something else. Some names are the same or close in English and latin. Toxicodendron radicans is poison ivy and the dendro means tree. Apocynaceae family contains dogbane and apo- means away from and cyn- means dog. These plants, and dogbane, are said to be poisonous to dogs. I find even if I don’t need to pronounce these names to anyone else, it helps me think of them, know them and pronounce them for myself.


for what it’s worth, there should be lots of free electronic copies of this, since it’s such an old text, and the author has long passed. for example: https://archive.org/details/manualofbot00gray/page/1198/mode/2up.


As already well said, there can be variation in pronunciation and no one will really care. Native Spanish speakers will pronounce a scientific name a little different than an English speaker and it’s all good.

There are some names I really struggle with though. Ever since our North American toads in genus Bufo (BOO-fo) were reassigned to Anaxyrus (??) I typically just say “toad.” Still don’t know how that one should be pronounced.


I don’t have much to add, other than to echo just pronouncing one syllable at a time and that it’s not a big deal, because most everyone else does it, too.

Once I learn to pronounce something acceptably enough, to make it stick, I like to pretend I’m Harry Potter casting a spell:

“Metasequoia glyptostroboides!!!”

:fire: -watches the tree burst into flames- :fire:


Thank you very much @sedgequeen. Your brief paragraph answered several questions I have had for some time. For pronunciation of a single word or binomial I usually just use Google. It gives accent variations but I do find helpful and simple. It’s good to know something of the basic structure of the language though.


Stress should be on 2nd from the end syllable if it’s long, but here “y” is a short one, so correct stress is on second “a”, I struggle with phonetical analysis in English, so all I can say it’s pronounced as “ана́ксирус”, sorry.