Names for the human species

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The common name of the human species in English is historically man (from Germanic), often replaced by the Latinate human (since the 16th century).

In addition to the generally accepted taxonomic name Homo sapiens (Latin: "sapient man", Linnaeus 1758), other Latin-based names for the human species have been created to refer to various aspects of the human character.

Some of these are ironic of the self-ascribed nobility immanent in the choice of sapiens, others are serious references to human universals that may be considered defining characteristics of the species. Most of these refer to linguistic, intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic, social or technological abilities taken to be unique to humanity.

In the world's languages[edit]

The Indo-European languages have a number of inherited terms for mankind. The etymon of man is found in the Germanic languages, and is cognate with Manu, the name of the human progenitor in Hindu mythology, and found in Indic terms for "man" (manuṣya, manush, manava etc.).

Latin homo is derived from an Indo-European root dʰǵʰm- "earth", as it were "earthling". It has cognates in Baltic (Old Prussian zmūi), Germanic (Gothic guma) and Celtic (Old Irish duine). This is comparable to the explanation given in the Genesis narrative to the Hebrew Adam (אָדָם) "man", derived from a word for "red, reddish-brown". Etymologically, it may be an ethnic or racial classification (after "reddish" skin colour contrasting with both "white" and "black"), but Genesis takes it to refer to the reddish colour of earth, as in the narrative the first man is formed from earth.[1]

Other Indo-European languages name man for his mortality, *mr̥tós meaning "mortal", so in Armenian mard, Persian mard, Sanskrit marta and Greek βροτός meaning "mortal; human". This is comparable to the Semitic word for "man", represented by Arabic insan إنسان (cognate with Hebrew ʼenōš אֱנוֹשׁ‬), from a root for "sick, mortal".[2] The Arabic word has been influential in the Islamic world, and was adopted in many Turkic languages. The native Turkic word is kiši (from a Proto-Altaic *k`i̯uĺe).[3]

Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthropos) is of uncertain, possibly pre-Greek origin.[4] Slavic čelověkъ also is of uncertain etymology.[5]

The Chinese character used in East Asian languages is 人, originating as a pictogram of a human being. The reconstructed Old Chinese pronunciation of the Chinese word is /ni[ŋ]/.[6] A Proto-Sino-Tibetan r-mi(j)-n gives rise to Old Chinese /*miŋ/, modern Chinese 民 mín "people" and to Tibetan མི mi "person, human being".

In some tribal or band societies, the local endonym is indistinguishable from the word for "men, human beings". Examples include Ainu: ainu, Inuktitut: inuk, Bantu: bantu, Khoekhoe: khoe-khoe (etc.), possibly in Uralic: Hungarian magyar, Mansi mäńćī, mańśi, from a Proto-Ugric *mańć- "man, person".

In philosophy[edit]

The mixture of serious and tongue-in-cheek self-designation originates with Plato, who on one hand defined man as it were taxonomically as "featherless biped"[7] and on the other as ζῷον πολιτικόν zōon politikon, as "political" or "state-building animal" (Aristotle's term, based on Plato's Statesman).

Harking back to Plato's zōon politikon are a number of later descriptions of man as an animal with a certain characteristic. Notably animal rationabile "animal capable of rationality", a term used in medieval scholasticism (with reference to Aristotle), and also used by e.g. Carl von Linné 1760,[citation needed] Immanuel Kant 1798.[citation needed] Based on the same pattern is animal sociale or "social animal"[according to whom?][year needed] animal laborans "laboring animal" (Hannah Arendt 1958[8]) and animal symbolicum "symbolizing animal" (Ernst Cassirer 1944).


The binomial name Homo sapiens was coined by Carl Linnaeus (1758).[9] Names for other human species were introduced beginning in the second half of the 19th century (Homo neanderthalensis 1864, Homo erectus 1892).

There is no consensus on the taxonomic delineation between human species, human subspecies and the human races. On the one hand, there is the proposal that H. sapiens idaltu (2003) is not distinctive enough to warrant classification as a subspecies.[10] On the other, there is the position that genetic variation in the extant human population is large enough to justify its division into several subspecies. Linneaeus (1758) proposed division into five subspecies, H. sapiens europaeus alongside H. s. afer, H. s. americanus and H. s. asiaticus for Europeans, Africans, Americans and Asians. This convention remained commonly observed until the mid-20th century, sometimes with variations or additions such as H. s. tasmanianus for Australians.[11] The conventional division of extant human populations into taxonomic subspecies was gradually abandoned beginning in the 1970s.[12] Similarly, there are proposals to classify Neanderthals[13] and Homo rhodesiensis as subspecies of H. sapiens, although it remains more common to treat these last two as separate species within the genus Homo rather than as subspecies within H. sapiens.[14]

Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee (1991), and Morris Goodman (2003)[15] argued that Homo is not sufficiently removed from Pan to warrant the definition of a separate genus. Based on the Principle of Priority, this would result in chimpanzees being reclassified as members of the genus Homo, e.g. Homo paniscus, Homo sylvestris, or Homo arboreus. An alternative philosophy suggests that the term Homo sapiens is the misnomer and that humans should be reclassified as Pan sapiens. In either case, a name change of the genus would have implications on the taxonomy of extinct species closely related to humans, including Australopithecus. A taxonomic name given to the species of the last common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees is Pan prior.

List of binomial names[edit]

The following names mimick binomial nomenclature, mostly consisting of Homo followed by a Latin adjective characterizing human nature. Most of them were coined since the mid 20th century in imitation of Homo sapiens in order to make some philosophical point (either serious or ironic), but some go back to the 18th to 19th century, as in Homo aestheticus vs. Homo oeconomicus; Homo loquens is a serious suggestion by Herder, taking the human species as defined by the use of language;[16] Homo creator is medieval, coined by Nicolaus Cusanus in reference to man as imago Dei.

Name Translation Notes
Homo absconditus "man the inscrutable" Pappe 1967[17]
Homo adorans "worshipping man" Man as a worshipping agent, a servant of God or gods.[18]
Homo aestheticus "aesthetic man" in Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the main antagonist of Homo oeconomicus in the internal conflict tormenting the philosopher. Homo aestheticus is "man the aristocrat" in feelings and emotions.[19]

Dissanayake (1992) uses the term to suggest that the emergence of art was central to the formation of the human species.

Homo amans "loving man" man as a loving agent; Humberto Maturana 2008[20]
Homo animalis "man with a soul" Man as in possession of an animus sive mens (a soul or mind), Heidegger (1975).[19]
Homo avarus "man the greedy" used for Man "activated by greed" by Barnett (1977).[21]
Homo combinans "combining man" man as the only species that performs the unbounded combinatorial operations that underlie syntax and possibly other cognitive capacities; Cedric Boeckx 2009.[22]
Homo contaminatus "contaminated man" suggested by Romeo (1979) alongside Homo inquinatus ("polluted man") "to designate contemporary Man polluted by his own technological advances".[23]
Homo creator "creator man" due to Nicolaus Cusanus in reference to man as imago Dei; expanded to Homo alter deus by K.-O. Apel (1955).[24]
Homo degeneratus "degenerative man" a man or the mankind as a whole if they undergo any regressive development (devolution); Andrej Poleev 2013[25]
Homo demens "mad man" man as the only being with irrational delusions. Edgar Morin 1975[citation needed]
Homo deus "human god" Man as god, endowed with supernatural abilities such as eternal life as outlined in Yuval Noah Harari's 2015 book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Homo discens "learning man" human capability to learn and adapt, Heinrich Roth, Theodor Wilhelm[year needed][citation needed]
Homo domesticus "domestic man" a human conditioned by the built environment; Oscar Carvajal 2005[26] Derrick Jensen 2006[27]
Homo duplex "double man" Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon 1754.[citation needed] Honoré de Balzac 1846. Joseph Conrad 1903. The idea of the double or divided man is developed by Émile Durkheim (1912) to figure the interaction of man's animal and social tendencies.
Homo economicus "economic man" man as a rational and self-interested agent (19th century).
Homo educandus "to be educated" human need of education before reaching maturity, Heinrich Roth 1966[citation needed]
Homo ethicus "ethical man" Man as an ethical agent.
Homo excentricus "not self-centered" human capability for objectivity, human self-reflection, theory of mind, Helmuth Plessner 1928[citation needed]
Homo faber "toolmaker man"
"fabricator man"
"worker man"
Karl Marx, Kenneth Oakley 1949, Max Frisch 1957, Hannah Arendt.[8]
Homo ferox "ferocious man" T.H. White 1958
Homo generosus "generous man" Tor Nørretranders, Generous Man (2005)
Homo geographicus "man in place" Robert D. Sack, Homo Geographicus (1997)
Homo grammaticus "grammatical man" human use of grammar, language, Frank Palmer 1971
Homo humanus "human man" used as a term for mankind considered as human in the cultural sense, as opposed to homo biologicus, man considered as a biological species (and thus synonymous with Homo sapiens); the distinction was made in these terms by John N. Deely (1973).[28]
Homo hypocritus "hypocritical man" Robin Hanson (2010);[29] also called "man the sly rule bender"
Homo imitans "imitating man" human capability of learning and adapting by imitation, Andrew N. Meltzoff 1988, Jürgen Lethmate 1992[citation needed]
Homo inermis "helpless man" man as defenseless, unprotected, devoid of animal instincts. J. F. Blumenbach 1779, J. G. Herder 1784–1791, Arnold Gehlen 1940[citation needed]
Homo ignorans "ignorant man" antonym to sciens (Bazán 1972, Romeo 1979:64)
Homo investigans "investigating man" human curiosity and capability to learn by deduction, Werner Luck 1976[citation needed]
Homo juridicus "juridical man" Homo juridicus identifies normative primacy of law, Alain Supiot, 2007.[30]
Homo laborans "working man" human capability for division of labour, specialization and expertise in craftsmanship and, Theodor Litt 1948[citation needed]
Homo logicus "the man who wants to understand" Homo logicus are driven by an irresistible desire to understand how things work. By contrast, Homo sapiens have a strong desire for success. Alan Cooper 1999
Homo loquens "talking man" man as the only animal capable of language, J. G. Herder 1772, J. F. Blumenbach 1779.[citation needed]
Homo loquax "chattering man" parody variation of Homo loquens, used by Henri Bergson (1943), Tom Wolfe (2006),[31] also in A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960).
Homo ludens "playing man" Friedrich Schiller 1795; Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1938). The characterization of human culture as essentially bearing the character of play.
Homo mendax "lying man" man with the ability to tell lies. Fernando Vallejo[citation needed]
Homo metaphysicus "metaphysical man" Arthur Schopenhauer 1819[citation needed]
Pan narrans "storytelling ape" man not only as an intelligent species, but also as the only one who tells stories. From The Science of Discworld II: The Globe by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
Homo necans "killing man" Walter Burkert 1972
Homo neophilus and Homo neophobus "Novelty-loving man" and "Novelty-fearing man", respectively coined by characters in the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson to describe two distinct types of human being: one which seeks out and embraces new ideas and situations (neophilus), and another which clings to habit and fears the new (neophobus).
Homo patiens "suffering man" human capability for suffering, Viktor Frankl 1988[citation needed]
Homo pictor "depicting man", "man the artist" human sense of aesthetics, Hans Jonas 1961
Homo poetica "man the poet", "man the meaning maker" Ernest Becker, in The Structure of Evil: An Essay on the Unification of the Science of Man (1968).
Homo religiosus "religious man" Alister Hardy[year needed][citation needed]
Homo ridens "laughing man" G.B. Milner 1969[32]
Homo reciprocans "reciprocal man" man as a cooperative actor who is motivated by improving his environment and wellbeing; Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis 1997[33]
Homo sacer "the sacred man" or "the accursed man" in Roman law, a person who is banned and may be killed by anybody, but may not be sacrificed in a religious ritual. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben takes the concept as the starting point of his main work Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998)
Homo sanguinis "bloody man" A comment on human foreign relations and the increasing ability of man to wage war by anatomist W. M. Cobb in the Journal of the National Medical Association in 1969 and 1975.[34][35]
Homo sciens "knowing man" used by Siger of Brabant, noted as a precedent of Homo sapiens by Bazán (1972) (Romeo 1979:128)
Homo sentimentalis "sentimental man" man born to a civilization of sentiment, who has raised feelings to a category of value; the human ability to empathize, but also to idealize emotions and make them servants of ideas. Milan Kundera in Immortality (1990), Eugene Halton in Bereft of Reason: On the Decline of Social Thought and Prospects for Its Renewal (1995).
Homo socius "social man" man as a social being. Inherent to humans as long as they have not lived entirely in isolation. Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann in The Social Construction of Reality (1966).
Homo sociologicus "sociological man" parody term; the human species as prone to sociology, Ralf Dahrendorf.[year needed]
Homo superior “superior man” from David Bowie’s song “Oh! You Pretty Things” 1971
Homo technologicus "technological man" Yves Gingras 2005, similar to homo faber, in a sense of man creating technology as an antithesis to nature.[36][37]
Homo viator "man the pilgrim" man as on his way towards finding God, Gabriel Marcel 1945[citation needed]

In fiction[edit]

In fiction, specifically science fiction and fantasy, occasionally names for the human species are introduced reflecting the fictional situation of humans existing alongside other, non-human civilizations. In science fiction, Earthling (also "Terran", "Gaian") is frequently used, as it were naming humanity by its planet of origin. Incidentally, this situation parallels the naming motive of ancient terms for humanity, including "human" (homo, humanus) itself, derived from a word for "earth" to contrast humans as earth-bound with celestial beings (i.e. deities) in mythology.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strong's Concordance
  2. ^ Strong's Concordance H852, H605.
  3. ^ Starostin, Sergei; Dybo, Anna; Mudrak, Oleg (2003), *k`i̯uĺe in: Etymological dictionary of the Altaic languages (Handbuch der Orientalistik; VIII.8), Leiden, New York, Köln: E.J. Brill (
  4. ^ Romain Garnier proposed another etymology in his 2007 article « Nouvelles réflexions étymologiques autour du grec ἄνθρωπος », deriving it from Proto-Indo-European *n̥dʰreh₃kʷó- ("that which is below"), hence "earthly, human".
  5. ^ its first element čelo- may be cognate with Sanskrit kula- "family, sept; herd"; the second element -věkъ may be cognate with Latvian vaiks, Lithuanian vaĩkas "boy, child". Max Vasmer, Russisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (1950–58).
  6. ^ Baxter-Sagart reconstruction of Old Chinese (Version 1.1, 20 September 2014)
  7. ^ Plato defined a human as a featherless, biped animal and was applauded. Diogenes of Sinope plucked a chicken and brought it into the lecture hall, saying: "Here is Plato's human!", Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Philosophers 6.40
  8. ^ a b Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958
  9. ^ Linné, Carl von (1758). Systema naturæ. Regnum animale (10 ed.). pp. 18, 20. Retrieved 19 November 2012. . Note: In 1959, Linnaeus was designated as the lectotype for Homo sapiens (Stearn, W. T. 1959. "The background of Linnaeus's contributions to the nomenclature and methods of systematic biology", Systematic Zoology 8 (1): 4-22, p. 4) which means that following the nomenclatural rules, Homo sapiens was validly defined as the animal species to which Linnaeus belonged.
  10. ^ "Human evolution: Out of Ethiopia". Macmillan Publishers Limited. June 12, 2003. Retrieved June 7, 2016.  "Herto skulls (Homo sapiens idaltu)". talkorigins org. Retrieved June 7, 2016. 
  11. ^ See e.g. John Wendell Bailey, The Mammals of Virginia (1946), p. 356.; Journal of Mammalogy 26-27 (1945), p. 359.; The Mankind Quarterly 1-2 (1960), 113ff ("Zoological Subspecies of Man"), J. Desmond Clark (ed.), The Cambridge History of Africa, Cambridge University Press (1982), p. 141 (with references).
  12. ^ e.g. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 11, p. 55.
  13. ^ Hublin, J. J. (2009). "The origin of Neandertals". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (38): 16022–7. Bibcode:2009PNAS..10616022H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0904119106. JSTOR 40485013. PMC 2752594Freely accessible. PMID 19805257.  Harvati, K.; Frost, S.R.; McNulty, K.P. (2004). "Neanderthal taxonomy reconsidered: implications of 3D primate models of intra- and interspecific differences". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101 (5): 1147–52. Bibcode:2004PNAS..101.1147H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0308085100. PMC 337021Freely accessible. PMID 14745010. 
  14. ^ "Homo neanderthalensis King, 1864". Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Evolution. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. 2013. pp. 328–331. 
  15. ^ Hecht, Jeff (19 May 2003). "Chimps are human, gene study implies". New Scientist. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  16. ^ Compare alalus "incapable of speech" as the species name given to Java Man fossil, at the time (1895) taken to reflect a pre-human stage of "ape-man" (Pithecanthropus). Herder's Homo loquens was parodied by Henri Bergson (1943) as Homo loquax i.e. Man as chattering or overly talkative.
  17. ^ Romeo (1979), p. 1.
  18. ^ Alexander Schmemann in 1973, in his book For the Life of the World. This theme is picked up by Dr. James Jordan at the Biblical Horizon Institute, and Dr. Peter Leithart in New Saint Andrews College.
  19. ^ a b Romeo (1979), p. 4.
  20. ^ Humberto Maturana, Metadesign, part III August 1, 1997
  21. ^ while in classical Latin, homo avarus means simply "someone greedy" Romeo (1979), p. 15.
  22. ^ Language in Cognition: Uncovering Mental Structures and the Rules Behind Them, Wiley Blackwell (ISBN 978-1-4051-5882-4)
  23. ^ Romeo (1979), p. 29; both homo contaminatus and homo inquinatus are found in Cicero as descriptions of individuals.
  24. ^ Romeo (1979), p. 8.
  25. ^ Homo sapiens contra Homo degeneratus.
  26. ^ Homo Domesticus Theory,
  27. ^ Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance, Seven Stories Press (ISBN 1-58322-724-5).
  28. ^ Deely and Nogar (1973), pages 149 and 312, cited after Romeo (1979), p. 18.
  29. ^ "Homo Hypocritus". 
  30. ^ Supiot, Alain. (2007). Homo Juridicus: On the Anthropological Function of the Law. Verso.
  31. ^ Tom Wolfe, "The Human Beast," 2006 Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  32. ^ Milner, G. B. (1972). "Homo Ridens. Towards a Semiotic Theory of Humour and Laughter". Semiotica. 5 (1): 1–30. doi:10.1515/semi.1972.5.1.1. 
  33. ^ [1] Homo reciprocans: A Research Initiative on the Origins, Dimensions, and Policy Implications of Reciprocal Fairness
  34. ^ "Homo Sanguinis Versus Homo Sapiens: Mankind's Present Dilemma". Journal of the National Medical Association. 61 (5): 437. PMC 2611676Freely accessible. 
  35. ^ "An anatomist's view of human relations. Homo sanguinis versus Homo sapiens--mankind's present dilemma". J Natl Med Assoc. 67 (3): 187–95, 232. May 1975. PMC 2609302Freely accessible. PMID 1142453. 
  36. ^ Gingras, Yves (2005). Éloge de l'homo techno-logicus. Saint-Laurent, Québec: Les Editions Fides. ISBN 2-7621-2630-4. 
  37. ^ Warwick, Kevin (2016) Homo Technologicus: Threat or Opportunity? Philosophies, Vol.1, Issue.3, pp.199-208; doi:10.3390/philosophies1030199

Further reading[edit]

  • Luigi Romeo, Ecce Homo!: A Lexicon of Man, John Benjamins Publishing, 1979.