Say names however you want, as long as people know what you mean

Scientific names are supposed to help people communicate about plants and animals, so pronounce them in such a way that other people will understand what you mean. Here are some guidelines for saying these names in the United States.

Silent letters

Latin has no “silent letters.” Pronounce every letter.

Two or three ways to pronounce Latin

In the United States there are two main systems of pronouncing Latin scientific names, a traditional English system and an academic system that tries to approximate how the ancient Romans spoke. The traditional system is more common. A third system, “church Latin,” is used by the Roman Catholic Church and by early-music groups. This table lists the main features of the traditional and academic systems. Pronounce letters not listed in the table as in English.

Examples: Julius Caesar in the traditional English system is pronounced JOO-lee-us SEE-zer. In the academic system, the name is pronounced YOO-lee-us KAI-sar. In “church Latin,” the name is pronounced YOO-lee-us CHAY-sar. Cyperus papyrus, papyrus, in the traditional system is si-PEE-rus pa-PIE-rus; academically, it is kü-PAY-rus pah-PÜ-rus; ecclesiastically, it is chi-PAY-rus pa-PEE-rus.


To accent a Latin word properly, look at its syllables.

A Latin word has as many syllables as it has vowels. To divide a word into syllables, note the following:

  1. A single consonant between two vowels goes with the following syllable: Ro-sa, Pi-sum.
  2. When two or more consonants stand between vowels, the last consonant goes with the following syllable: phyl-lum, al-ba. However, p, b, t, d, c, and g with either l or r, and th, ch, ph, and qu count as a single consonant. See the last syllables in Li-ri-o-den-dron, pa-lus-tris, Chi-o-nan-thus.

Long and short syllables

A syllable is long if it has a long vowel, or a vowel followed by two or more consonants. Otherwise it is short. Examples: the first syllable of Pī-nus is long because it has a long vowel. The next-to-last syllable of mi-cro-phyl-la is long because its vowel is followed by two consonants (ll).


The accent in a Latin word falls on the syllable second from the end if that syllable is long (or if the word is two syllables long). Otherwise the accent is on the syllable third from the end. Examples: leu-co-PHYL-la; Rho-do-DEN-dron; flo-ri-DĀ-na; Mag-NO-li-a; LU-te-a; me-sem-bry-an-the-mi-FO-li-a.

Personal names

When a name comes from the name of a person, the accent and pronunciation are adjusted so as not to mangle the person’s name completely. Example: michauxii, meaning “of (André) Michaux,” is pronounced mee-SHOW-ee-eye (or -ee-ee), not mee-KHOWK-see-ee. Halesia, the silverbell tree, is often pronounced ha-LEE-see-a, but since it is named for Stephen Hales, it may be better to say HALE-zee-a, even though this makes the “e” silent, a no-no in Latin.