The Linnaean System of Classification
In the 1750s, Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (who is known by the Latin form of his name, Linnaeus) developed a system to classify all living things. Each living thing has two scientific names, a genus and a species name. The scientist who first describes a new organism (any living thing) names it. Since Linnaeus began using this system, over a million species have been named.
A scientific name is given in the Linnaean System because living organisms are called different things in different languages. The house cat, for example, is die Katze in German; le chat in French; but English, French, and German biologists call it Felis catus.
In choosing a name, a scientist may highlight an interesting feature of the organism or may name it in honor of a person or the place it was found. So, the enormous meat-eating dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex is the "tyrant lizard king" that reigned over other dinosaurs.
In the Linnaean System, similar species are grouped into a genus, similar genera into a family, similar families into an order, similar orders into a class, similar classes into a phylum, and similar phyla into a kingdom.
Dogs, coyotes, and wolves are in the genus Canis. Vulpes, the fox genus, and Canis are both in the dog family Canidae. Canidae and Ursidae, the bear family, are part of the order Carnivora (meat-eating animals). Carnivores and people are in the class Mammalia (all mammals). Mammals and fishes are in the phylum Chordata (animals with backbones, or chordates). Chordates and corals are members of the kingdom Animalia (animals). These categories are known as taxa (singular: taxon), and the study of these classifications is called taxonomy.