If you have you probably realized pretty quickly that names are very important for talking to, and communicating with other people, about the things we perceive in the world, and within ourselves
They allow you to give the other person quite a lot of information about the animal or even plant that you are talking about.
However not everybody uses the same name for the same animal. For instance the name Robin is used for quite different birds in different parts of the world, USA and England for instance.
Read more about Carl Linnaeus
Since then his original binomial (double name) system has been improved by a number of other scientists, and now you can use the proper scientific name for an animal anywhere in the world and other scientists will know what you are talking about.
The science of naming things is called taxonomy and though it can become quite complicated the basics are easy to understand. However it will help if you know that identifying, describing and naming things, i.e. assigning them to particular groups is taxonomy, while arranging those groups in a coherent order which reflects their evolution and relatedness is classification. Another word is Systematics which may be defined as the study of the diversity of organisms and the way they relate to each other, modern Systematics is called Phylogenetic Cladistics and has a whole set of special rules telling you how to do it properly. Cladistics is a good, but young science and like all tools its usefulness reflects the understanding in the mind of the person using it, i.e. not all the results that people using cladistic analyses come to are equally reliable. Although in the vertebrates, in conjunction with DNA hybridisation studies, it is much more reliable than when applied to invertebrates on morphological grounds. For more information read the tutorial on Cladistic Analyses.
All the living things are divided into a series of sets and subsets depending on how closely related they are. For instance all living things are divided into 5 Kingdoms
The living members of the kingdom Animalia are divided into approximately 37 smaller groups called phyla singular phylum.
One of which, the Chordata is of particular interest to us. This phylum contains all the animals which have (at some stage in their lives) a notochord. This is a stiffened but flexible rod that runs along the animals back between its gut and its central nervous system. The Phylum Chordata is divided into 3 subphyla:- Urochordata (Sea Squirts and their allies; Cephalochordata (Brachiostoma, a small fish like creatures once known as Amphioxus); Vertebrata (birds, fish, frogs, mammals, snakes etc.)
The subphylum Vertebrata contains 7 smaller groups called Classes, these are:
After this we have Families, within the order Struthioniformes there are 4 families; within each family are a number of genera and within each genus are a number of species.
For instance the familiar Ostrich is a member of all the following sets:
For a list of all the Orders and Families of Birds with information on the number of genera and species in each family see bird classification.
You should note that most animals and plants are known only by their genus and species names, i.e. the Ostriche is Struthio camelus, note also that while the genus name is spelt with a capital letter the species name is normally spelt with a small letter, and that in printed text the pair are normally written in italics the rest usually remains unsaid. You should also note that though an animal will generally share its genus, family, order and class names etc. with other animals its combination genus/species name will be unique to it.
Finally you should know that scientist are still arguing about some of the family, class and order names so these may be different in different books, but until you get to university this is not very important.