What belongs to a family—or if a described family should be recognized at all—are proposed and determined by practicing taxonomists. There are no hard rules for describing or recognizing a family, but in plants, they can be characterized on the basis of both vegetative and reproductive features of plant species. Taxonomists often take different positions about descriptions, and there may be no broad consensus across the scientific community for some time. The publishing of new data and opinions often enables adjustments and consensus.
The naming of families is codified by various international bodies using the following suffixes:
- In fungal, algal, and
The taxonomic term familia was first used by French botanist Pierre Magnol in his Prodromus historiae generalis plantarum, in quo familiae plantarum per tabulas disponuntur (1689) where he called the seventy-six groups of plants he recognised in his tables families (familiae). The concept of rank at that time was not yet settled, and in the preface to the Prodromus Magnol spoke of uniting his families into larger genera, which is far from how the term is used today.
Subsequently, in French botanical publications, from Michel Adanson's Familles naturelles des plantes (1763) and until the end of the 19th century, the word famille was used as a French equivalent of the Latin ordo (or ordo naturalis).
In zoology, the family as a rank intermediate between order and genus was introduced by Pierre André Latreille in his Précis des caractères génériques des insectes, disposés dans un ordre naturel (1796). He used families (some of them were not named) in some but not in all his orders of "insects" (which then included all arthropods).
In nineteenth-century works such as the Prodromus of Augustin Pyramus de Candolle and the Genera Plantarum of George Bentham and Joseph Dalton Hooker this word ordo was used for what now is given the rank of family.
- Systematics, the study of the diversity of living organisms
- Cladistics, the classification of organisms by their order of branching in an evolutionary tree
- Phylogenetics, the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms
- Virus classification
- List of Anuran families
- List of Testudines families
- List of fish families
- List of families of spiders
- Editors, B. D. (19 March 2017). "Taxonomy - Definition, Classification & Example". Biology Dictionary. Retrieved 10 October 2022.
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- ICN 2012, Section 2. Names of families and subfamilies, tribes and subtribes Article 18.
- International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (1999). "Article 29.2. Suffixes for family-group names". International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Fourth ed.). International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, XXIX. p. 306. Archived from the original on 9 November 2004. 
- Bullock AA (January 1958). "Indicis Nominum Familiarum Angiospermarum Prodromus". JSTOR 1216226.
- Bullock AA (August 1958). "Indicis Nominum Familiarum Angiospermarum Prodromus: Additamenta et Corrigenda I". JSTOR 1217503.
- ICN (2012). "International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants". Bratislava: International Association for Plant Taxonomy. Retrieved 17 January 2016.