Standard, common & scientific names of fishes

The scientific process of naming any life form involves assigning each species a unique two word scientific or Latin name. The first word is the generic name (genus) and the second the species name. The author or describer of a species is the first person to publish the description and species name in a recognised manner, according to rules set out in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. At any one time, there can only be a single valid scientific name for a species. However, some species may have inadvertently been named more than once. When this occurs the oldest name generally has priority and others are regarded as junior synonyms, which are not used to identify the species.

The scientific name of a species is usually presented in Latin, and often relates to a distinctive aspect of its body form. For example, the Dusky Flathead’s scientific name is Platycephalus fuscus. The genus (Platycephalus) is derived from the Latin platy, meaning flat and cephalus, meaning head. The species name, fuscus, refers to this fish’s dusky, or dark, colouration. The description of Platycephalus fuscus was published in the journal Histoire Naturelle des Poissons by the French zoologist Georges Cuvier in 1829.

In contrast to Latin names, common names for many species are numerous and varied, according to country, location and custom. It is often difficult to determine which species, or how many species, are identified by a particular common name. For example, Diagramma pictum, from northern Australia, is variously referred to as Morwong, Blackall, Slatey Bream, Painted Sweetlips and Mother in Law Fish. The use of multiple, and inconsistent, common names has led to a great deal of confusion, especially between suppliers and consumers of fish, and fish marketing authorities.

To resolve this, Australian fish experts in consultation with stakeholder groups have produced a standardised list of names for Australian fish species. This list provides a single standard name for each species and can be searched according to either scientific or standard name.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.