Pronunciation of scientific names

Discussion and ideas on how to pronounce scientific names.

Authorship details
Rudman, W.B., 1999 (August 3) Pronunciation of scientific names. [In] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Related messages


April 25, 2002
From: tami

Dear Bill,
First, I must say, I love this site. I wish there were more pages about marine life that were as in depth and well organized as this site. I do, however, have a suggestion to make. Having no formal scientific training, my pronunciation of scientific names is terrible, which leaves me often using common names just so I don't feel so helpless when I talk about a species. I suspect that there are many people like me. So, what about including the pronunciation after the species name? I suspect many people are in the same boat I am, preferring to use the proper name, but unable to for the lack of knowing how. I think it would go a long way to eliminate the use of common names!
Just a quick thought.

Tami, 2002 (Apr 25) Pronunciation?. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Dear Tami,
Thanks for your comments. I can understand how unfamiliar looking words can be a bit daunting to start with. Have a look at the other two messages and comments on this page. I think my comments and Angel Valdes' reply summarise the situation. I can assure you that at international conferences there are often confusing conversations until someone finally gives up and asks the other what they are talking about. Inevitably we carry sounds from our own language, or version of it in the case of English, when we pronounce scientific names, but just as I understand an American saying 'toma[y]to' when I say 'toma[r]to' we learn to accept Kerata and serata etc etc.

The important point is to give it a go, after all, no one knows how the Romans actually pronounced Latin. The basic rule is not to think your pronunciation is inferior or superior to someone elses'.
Carpe Diem!
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 2002 (Apr 25). Comment on Pronunciation? by tami. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Re: Pronunciation of scientific names

August 3, 1999
From: Angel Valdes

Dear Bill,

The pronunciation of scientific names is a major problem in modern systematics. Very often, nudibranch specialists from different countries are unable to understand each other when we talk about our common subject of interest. This is a very sad paradox, since the point of having scientific names is to have a universal way to communicate.
Even native speakers of Latin-based languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian, do not agree in the way we pronounce certain names. In my opinion, the most correct way to pronounce scientific names should be the Italian, since that language is the most similar to Latin. In the case of Ceras, the correct Italian pronunciation should be "cheras" instead of "seras" or "keras".

The pronunciation of the consonant sounds is very similar in most languages and does not constitute the major problem. A few consonants that are pronounced differently in English are H, which is silent in Latin, and J, which is pronounced like the vowel sound "ee" in Latin. For example, Hypselodoris should be pronounced "eepsehlohdoris" and Jorunna should be pronounced "eeohrunna". The consonant C has different pronunciations, changing with the vowel that follows that letter. For example, Ceras is pronounced "cheras", but Cadlina is pronounced "kadleena".

The major problem is the pronunciation of the vowel sounds. The English language is especially problematic because of the number of different vowel sounds, which are pronounced very differently from Latin-based languages or even other Germanic languages. In Latin there are only five vowel sounds: A, pronounced "ah", E pronounced "eh", I pronounced "ee", O pronounced "oh", and U pronounced "oo". I think that if we all follow these basic rules in pronouncing the vowels, we will be able to understand each other with few problems.

Angel Valdes

Valdes, A., 1999 (Aug 3) Re: Pronunciation of scientific names. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Pronunciation of scientific names

August 2, 1999
From: Ed Lindquist

I'm new to the area of nudibranchs, and don't know how to pronounce MOST of the terms. For example - is it serata or kerata? I do know it's nudibrank! Where can I look?

Ed Lindquist

Lindquist, E., 1999 (Aug 2) Pronunciation of scientific names. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Dear Ed,
Scientific names are based on Latin and Ancient Greek. These are both 'dead' languages and it seems even last century when many 'educated' people were taught classical languages, there were differences of opinion over pronunciation.

Even the example you ask about "Ceras" is pronounced Serass and Kerass by different people, just as Cephalopod is pronounced both Sephalo- and Kephalo-.

I would have replied a couple of days ago but I have been trying to find an article published not so long ago in a Shell Club magazine/newsletter with some handy hints on pronunciation. I can't find it, but hopefully someone reading this will know of something which could help you out.

The most important rule is to be tolerant of other people's pronunciation. A few years ago I went on a field trip with an esteemed colleague from the US (not an opisthobranch worker) who was very keen on finding a particular snail alive. He kept on telling me about its fabulous attributes etc etc and I promised to keep my eyes open for it - but I had no idea what he wanted - I just hoped he'd find one quickly so I could find out what he was talking about! I had asked him about 10 times in different ways about its name and each time was no better - I couldn't understand what he was talking about. Each day I would say I hadn't found any. It was 4 days before he found the animal and proudly showed me. It was something I had passed over many times in the last 4 days - and even when I knew what he was talking about I thought the snail must have had a name change because is pronunciation was so different.

I know this doesn't help you too much but I am sure someone reading the Forum wil be able to point us towards a relatively simple guide to pronunciations.

If you are new to opisthobranchs, can I say that much more exciting than their names, are the mysteries concerning their biology and natural history, where they live, what they eat, what the eggs look like etc. Photos and observations are always welcome on the Forum. In return for sharing photos and observations with us, the participants in the Forum can pretty much guarantee to give you a name, (if there is one), and some basic information, for any of your finds.

Best wishes,
Bill Rudman.