Why Bother With Nomenclature?


Organic chemistry is a vast body of knowledge - there are more described kinds of organic molecules than there are people in Australia. Clearly, it would be incredibly impractical to give every one a unique name, like we can get away with for the 111 or so named elements.

In the early days of organic chemistry, this is just what was done - hence, we talk about "styrene" instead of "phenylethene" and "himbacine" instead of whatever himbacine would be called if it was named systematically. These traditional names are called "trivial" names.

A naming system is needed that classifies organic compounds into logical groups and allows the structure of each molecule to be determined from its name by following simple, logical rules. After two-hundred years, we still have a little way to go, but for relatively simple compounds, we can manage relatively simple names.

As you can imagine, with so many people in chemistry and chemistry-related disciplines across the world, it's important that everyone talks about the same compounds the same way (it's no good two people giving the same name to two different compounds... imagine the disasters you could have then!). Just as mathematicians the world over use the same symbols for basic mathematical operations, chemists (try) to use systematic nomenclature for their chemicals.