Spinal nerves emerge sequentially from the spinal cord with the spinal nerve closest to the head (C1) emerging in the space above the first cervical vertebra. The cranial nerves, however, emerge from the central nervous system above this level. Each cranial nerve is paired and is present on both sides. Depending on definition in humans there are twelve or thirteen cranial nerves pairs, which are assigned Roman numerals I–XII, sometimes also including cranial nerve zero. The numbering of the cranial nerves is based on the order in which they emerge from the brain, front to back (brainstem).
The cranial nerves are considered components of the peripheral nervous system (PNS), although on a structural level the olfactory (I), optic (II), and trigeminal (V) nerves are more accurately considered part of the central nervous system (CNS).
Most typically, humans are considered to have twelve pairs of cranial nerves (I–XII). They are: the olfactory nerve (I), the optic nerve (II), oculomotor nerve (III), trochlear nerve (IV), trigeminal nerve (V), abducens nerve (VI), facial nerve (VII), vestibulocochlear nerve (VIII), glossopharyngeal nerve (IX), vagus nerve (X), accessory nerve (XI), and hypoglossal nerve (XII). (There may be a thirteenth cranial nerve, the terminal nerve (nerve O or N), which is very small and may or may not be functional in humans)
Cranial nerves are generally named according to their structure or function. For example, the olfactory nerve (I) supplies smell, and the facial nerve (VII) supplies motor innervation to the face. Because Latin was the lingua franca (common language) of the study of anatomy when the nerves were first documented, recorded, and discussed, many nerves maintain Latin or Greek names, including the trochlear nerve (IV), named according to its structure, as it supplies a muscle that attaches to a pulley (Greek: trochlea). The trigeminal nerve (V) is named in accordance with its three components (Latin: trigeminus meaning triplets), and the vagus nerve (X) is named for its wandering course (Latin: vagus).