Where Do I Start With Pronouncing Scientific Names?

Well if you pronounce the X as Z, which I think is correct here, the pronunciation is fairly straightforward. I’ve heard too many try to pronounce it with an X and not a Z sound, which ends up sounding terrible.

X is KS sound. Like in “xeno”.

Which in English is pronounced Zeno.


The “y” should be pronounced like the german “ü” or the french “ue” like in revue
… but I really don´t know if you do have that sound in english at all?.. can´t come up with any word (tried… but was surprised that even greek Gyros is pronounced very english g)
…but I found a page where you can listen to the ü-sound and learn to produce it:

… it´s always fun to talk to native english speakers about my favourit spiders ´, as they seem to be the only ones pronouncing them Ste-go-d[ai]-phus instead of Ste-go-d[ü]-phus :-D


Anyway, it’s only in words derived from Greek and it’s [ k s], I don’t think it’s too hard as it’s literally just letter “x”.

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Except when it’s Z.


This is a little off topic but
the double end “ii” is pronounced longer? Sounds similar to Japanese. Where if there are two vowels that are the same, you say the sound longer. For instance the adjective “Kawaii” (可愛い/かわいい) which means cute.
The “いい” = “ii” but you don’t just say one i, you drag out the sound longer. “Kawaii” and “Kawai” sound very different. (kawai sounds like kowai which means scared)
“Kah-wah-ee-ee” VS “Kah-why”
I think that’s what you mean? :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


For practical purposes, you can pronounce the double I same as the single I. The ending means the same in an epithet.


It has already been said! Mostly, don’t worry, we all pronounce things differently sometimes. For example, any time I see Ratibida pinnata, I sing it to the tune of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Ratibida pinnata, honey
Don’t you know that I’m lovin’ you
Ratibida pinnata, baby
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true

Wikipedia: “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (derived from “In the Garden of Eden”) is a song recorded by Iron Butterfly . . . ."


I wouldn’t worry too much about pronouncing things “correctly.” Many of the people who I’ve met who are the most strict about using the “correct” pronunciation don’t even pronounce the names as they would be pronounced in Latin or Greek. I used to pronounce Eriogonum almost as /ɛɹɪɘɡonəm/ (eri-uh-GO-num), until I was told it’s pronounced /ɛɹɪɑɡənəm/ (eri-AH-guh-num) because that’s the “correct” way to say it. However, the Greek roots of the word show that the proper pronunciation is different; ἔριον (erion) is pronounced like /érion/ and γόνῠ (gonu) is pronounced like /ˈɣoni/, so the full word should be pronounced something like /érioˈɣonum/ (sort of like e-RI-o-go-noom, which is a very rough approximation). Even then, it’s not precise. My point is that, as long as other people know what you’re talking about, who cares if you’re pronouncing it the way it “should” be pronounced, or the way it would be pronounced by a native Latin or Greek speaker?


No, I mean that “-ii” is pronounced like two syllables. Do you know that glottal stop sound? In Tongan, at least, it’s written ’

[EDIT: Ignore this. I was wrong for how most people pronounce scientific names.]

The -ii ending is pronounced (in English) ee’ee or ee’eye, like it has a glottal stop in the middle, making two different bits of sounds.

I learned about longer and shorter vowels in Tongan, to, but this is different.


Example: Penstemon richardsonii



-ii is from when they Latinized the author’s name as well. So if it’s called thomasii it’s because Thomas was latinized to Thomasius, then with the possessive replacing the suffix it becomes thomasii. -i is when the root is the unlatinized name (which personally I prefer, I’d rather minimize the effects of obscure Latin rules of grammar, gender, etc. in nomenclature).

I’ve never heard it pronounced with a glottal stop, only with then gliding together like the ea in “keala” in Hawaiian. To the extent there’s a separation it’s more like a y sound between, like ee-yee or ee-yī.


Divided by a common language? I wouldn’t pronounce xeno as if it was written with z (zed to me and zee to you?)


Imagine if we could streamline the taxonomy rules and call it Plant Thomas and ditch the ivory tower dead grammar rules - which serve only as a barrier to keep out the rabble.

That ThomasII is linguistics, not biology. Then when taxonomists change the Plant bit, again, Thomas could sail on undisturbed.


My colleague, who is now an engineer, but first studied classical history before completely changing course, has recently explained to me that we are all pronouncing Latin wrong, because what is now the accepted pronunciation of Latin, in church, medicine, biology … is completely different from how people actually spoke it. And fun fact, the real pronunciation is mainly known from texts making fun of how people pronounced things - dissing others has historical value!

This was even harder to accept for me, because I have always considered me being Czech to be a big advantage in reading Latin - because our writing system has been artificially devised based on Latin. So yes, for me to match the “modern” pronunciation of Latin, I can just read the words as if they were Czech, but it’s still historically totally wrong.

Most English people have it totally wrong from both points of view though :)


In my MS and PhD programs I was taught that there is no “correct” pronunciation for scientific names, only standard ones that most people use, like with common names. There are no pronunciation rules in any of the nomenclatural codes (eg, ICZN) that I’m aware of, only rules for writing names. Assuming that, the only really value in pronunciation is ease of verbal communication, so just do your best!

There are numerous names that biologists in my field (herpetology) pronounce differently, even among the “experts”, and I’ve seen multiple times (and experienced it myself) when someone says “wait, that’s how you pronounce that name???” Everybody gets along anyways.

In cases where a name stems from an existing word or is based on a person’s name, that often gives a good direction as to how the Latinized version should be pronounced. For names based on actual Latin words (not Latinized), some people will tell you an “official” pronunciation, but many times this is wrong. As @opisska pointed out, a lot of the “rules” for Latin pronunciation floating around are incorrect, and our best guesses at pronunciation are still just guesses. In my Latin classes, we were told that we were just speaking an approximation of the language and never actually graded on pronunciation.


So how do you pronounce the X at the beginning of a word such as xenophobic if not with a Z sound?

Did a little research and the genus Anaxyrus is pronounced with a Z sound: AN-a-ZY-rus. Simple and easy to say.

The fish genus Xyrauchen is presumably similar in pronunciation.

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In Latin “x” is never pronounced like that.


Yeah but I don’t speak Latin. And it’s consistent with how an English speaker pronounces an X at the beginning of a word.

Apparently we can blame the French for that transition from the Greek pronunciation.

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