Bambiraptor, named after the famous Disney character. (Image)
Paleontologists, those scientists that study fossils of life-forms from prehistoric times, are a fun bunch. Apparently, sifting through fossilized bones, dung (yep, dung: look up coprolite [wiki]), stomach content (gastrolith) and even vomit (again, real: regurgitalith [wiki]), gives paleontologist a unique sense of humor. How? They love to give dinosaurs silly names!
Actually, this might be a bad way to start a list of weird dinosaur names. See, Aachenosaurus [wiki] fossil fragments were found and named by Gerard Smets in 1888, who argued that they were jaw fragments of a duck-billed dinosaur. When paleontologist Louis Dollo proved that his "dinosaur" were actually petrified wood, Smets was so embarrassed that he withdrew from science completely.
If he had lived, Smets would probably feel better because someone else made the same mistake in 1941. Then, German paleontologist Friedrich von Huene thought he had discovered the jaw bone of a new dinosaur he named Succinodon putzeri [wiki], which later turned out to be fossilized wood filled with wood-boring clams.
In 1995, a trilobite species was named after The Rolling Stones' singer Mick Jagger by Adrain and Edgecombe. As if that's not neat enough, turns out Aegrotocatellus means "sick puppy" in Latin.
Mick Jagger was quite popular amongst the paleontologists - turns out there's another species named after him: a fossilized mollusk called Anomphalus jaggerius.
ARCTICALYMENE VICIOUSI, A. ROTTENI, A. JONESI, A. COOKI, A. MATLOCKI
That guy Greg Edgecombe (you'll see more of him later) is one funny prankster. He named (another) trilobite series after Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols.
A pterodactyl named for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You may know him as the author of those Sherlock Holmes detective stories, but the pterodactyl was named for him because of his 1912 novel The Lost World about an expedition to a hidden plateau in South America where dinosaurs were still alive.
This Australian dinosaur [wiki] was named after the company Atlas Copco, which manufactured industrial tools and equipments. The company provided the equipment for the expedition. The species name loadsi was named after William Loads, the state manager for Atlas Copco at the time, who also assisted during the dig.
AVALANCHURUS LENNONI, A. STARRI, A. SIMONI, A. GARFUNKELI
In 1993, Edgecombe (yup, again) and Chatterton named a series of trilobite species Avalanchurus after famous singers like John Lennon and Ringo Starr of the Beatles and Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
The two paleontologists didn't forget Paul McCartney and George Harrison, they named other trilobites Struszia mccartneyi and S. harrisoni after them.
Yup - this 75-million year old bird-like fossil was named after the famous Disney movie character. As if that’s not remarkable enough, a near complete skeleton of Bambiraptor [wiki] was discovered in 1995 by a 14-year-old fossil hunter named Wes Linster, who was looking for dino bones with his parents in Glacier National Park in Montana. Feinbergi was named after a wealthy family who bought and donated the specimen to the Graves Museum of Natural History in Florida.
This bipedal carnivore of a dinosaur was named after the borogoves, creatures from Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky [wiki].
Jabberwocky illustration by John Tenniel, published in 1871
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Named after Camelot, the mythical castle of King Arthur, by Peter Galton in 1985, this dinosaur seems to fit the name well: scientist can't decide whether this plant eater actually exist as its own genus or if it is actually a member of another family.
Discovered in 1977, this stegosaurus-like dinosaur was named after the Chinese city of Chongqing, not the Wong Kar-Wai movie Chongking Express [wiki], although that would've been neater!
Supposedly, there is a fossilized lizard named Cuttysarkus that was named so because its discoverer was promised a bottle of Scotch if he found a mammal jaw. Sounds suspicious to me, but if it's true, then hey, that's neat.
Three amateur dinosaur hunter discovered the fossil that look remarkably similar to a dragon. As a tribute to JK Rowling's Harry Potter series of books, the fossil was named Dracorex [wiki] (meaning "Dragon King") hogwartsia, after the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
This bipedal dinosaur has a bizarre crest on its head that looks like a Spanish comb (and Elvis' hairdo!). Elvisaurus, which is now formally called Cryolophosaurus [wiki], was the first dinosaur to be discovered in Antarctica.
When Mongolian paleontologist Rinchen Barsbold and Altangerel Perle discovered a puzzling and unusual hip bone of a new dinosaur, they decided to name it Enigmosaurus!
Despite its dirty-sounding name, Erectopus was a meat-eating dinosaur with long hands and short claws. It was actually named after the latin words for "upright foot." Remember that when you next get an upright foot.
All Erics of the world, listen up: there's a dinosaur named after you. Well, no. Actually it's a marine reptile named after Eric Idle [wiki] of Monty Python.
As if energy companies aren't rich and powerful enough already, they also got a dinosaur named after them! Gasosaurus was named after a natural gas company found it in 1985 during a construction of a gas facility.
Yes, this is a dinosaur named after Gojira, the Japanese name for "Godzilla". It was named by an American paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter, who credited seeing the movie Godzilla as his inspiration for studying fossils. Ironically, it was found in New Mexico, USA, not Japan.
Hallucigenia [wiki] was one strange worm-like prehistoric animal. It has a long, narrow body with pincer-tipped tentacles, weird tube-like body extensions behind these tentacles, a blob that was arbitrarily designated as the head even though it has no mouth, eyes, or other sensory organs, and spines - lots of spines. Hallucegenia has no obvious method of locomotion or even eating (unless those tentacles were actually mouths)
Hallucigenia was named by Simon Conway Morris when he was re-examining fossils from the Burgess Shale (made famous by Stephen Jay Gould's book Wonderful Life [wiki]). Morris named it so because of the "bizarre and dream-like quality" of the animal.
The informal name Ichabodcraniosaurus came about when paleontologists Mark Norell and Altangerel Perle discovered a headless skeleton of a velociraptor-like dinosaur. Ichabod Crane, if you don't know, is a fictional character of the horror story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," who was chased around by the Headless Horseman.
This dinosaur was named by David Martill and colleagues who was supremely irritated because they had to undo some bad plastering job on a skull done by the amateur fossil hunter who found it. The amateur collector had obscured parts of the skull with plaster in hope to make it more complete and hence valuable!
The species name challengeri was not named after the challenge it presented the paleontologists in the restoration process, rather it was named after Professor Challenge, a character in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
Ah, the (limited) power of money: Steven Spielberg, who gave money toward Chinese dinosaur research, suggested the name Jurassosaurus after his 1993 blockbuster movie Jurassic Park. The species name nedegoapeferima is formed from the surnames of the movie's main stars: Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Ariana Richards, and Joseph Mazzello.
Dong Zhiming, the paleontologist who discovered the dinosaur, later discarded the genus name Jurassosaurus in favor of Tianchiasaurus [wiki], but kept the species name honoring the actors.
Laputavis, the genus of a fossilized bird, was named after Laputa [wiki], the floating castle in Gulliver's Travel by Jonathan Swift (and later an anime movie by Hayao Miyazaki).
MACKENZIURUS JOHNNYI, M. JOEYI, M. DEEDEEI, M. CEEJAYI
Continuing his love of naming trilobites after musicians, Australian paleontologist Greg Edgecombe (who else) named a trilobite series after Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and C.J. of the Ramones.
Scott Sampson, a dinosaur researcher at the University of Utah, must really liked Dire Straits, because he named a vicious fish-eating dinosaur after Mark Knopfler, the guitarist of the band. Sampson said that his team decided to name the dinosaur after listening to the band's music in the field and seemed only to find new species when Dire Straits music was on.
Mark Knopfler was happy that the dino was named after him, but added that he wasn't in the least bit vicious.
Mei [wiki] beats out Eric (see above) for the shortest name of a dinosaur. This duck-sized dinosaur got its name, which in Chinese means sleeping dragon, because the dinosaur was found with its face nestled behind one of their forelimbs just like a sleeping bird.
University of Chicago professor Leigh Van Valen named a whole bunch of Paleocene mammals after characters from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Ring [wiki] series of books. Indeed, besides naming a species after Morgoth, the "Dark Lord", Van Valen also named:
Alletodon mellon - mellon is Elvish for friend and is the password to enter the mines of Moria.
Mithrandir - another name for Gandalf
Oxyprimus galadrielae - for the elf Lady Galadriel
Protungulatum gorgun - gorguns are orcs
Van Valen also named a dog-like fossil Arfia.
Oh, I wish. So far no one has named a dinosaur after Neatorama. If they had, it would fit right in here. :)
This trilobite (no, not named by Edgecombe - it was by an English paleontologist named Richard Fortey) is named for Marilyn Monroe. The a part of head of the trilobite is shaped like an hourglass.
William de Klerk and Callum Ross discovered only one specimen of this dinosaur in the Kirkwood Formation in Eastern Cape, South Africa (which they lovingly nicknamed "Kirky"). What's neat about Nqwebasaurus is that it is the first dinosaur with a click sound in its name. It is pronounced: N-(click with tongue)-KWE-bah-SAWR-us.
Nqweba is a the name of the place where the dino was found, in the native language spoken by the Bantu people in Africa.
Can you guess who this raptor is named after? That's right Subotai, the archer in Conan the Barbarian movie. Actually, it's probably named after the Genghis Khan strategist and general Subotai, but I like the first one better.
Mick Jagger got a lot of love, and so did another Rolling Stones musician Keith Richards. Like Mick's, his namesake is also a trilobite. And oh, did you guess that Adrain and Edgecombe named this species?
Qantassaurus [wiki] was named after the Australian airline company Qantas, who helped transport the fossil.
No, not old and obsolete gizmos and technology - technosaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur named in honor of Texas Tech University.
Poor Spielberg, he couldn't catch a break when it comes to dino names. A raptor was discovered the week his movie Jurassic Park opened, so it was informally named after him. However, because in a rush to name the skeleton, the scientists didn't describe it properly so it was reassigned the name U. ostrommaysorum. It's a good thing that Steven's a bazillionaire and could drown his sorrow in lots and lots of money.
WEIRD LATIN TRANSLATIONS
Lots and lots of dinosaurs are named after latin words (hey, most of binomial nomenclature [wiki] is latin). Turns out, latin is a great way for mischievous scientists to hide funny names under the guise of respectability.
Agathaumas - "great wonder"
Ambulocetus natans - "walking whale that swims"
Bangiomorpha pubescens - "bang" is euphemism for sex. This fossilized red algae is the first recorded sex act from 1.2 billion years ago. (Image)
Camptosaurus - "bent lizard"
Colymbosathon ecplecticos - "swimmer with a large penis," this 452-million-year old fossil is the oldest known instance of a penis.
Deinogalerix - "terrible hedgehog"
Eucritta melanolimnetes - "creature from the black lagoon"
Halticosaurus - "leaping lizard!"
Megapnosaurus [wiki] - "big dead lizard"
Megaraptor - "huge robber"
Rapetosaurus - "mischievous giant lizard"
Stygimoloch - "demon from the river Styx"
Tyrannosaurus Rex - come on, you know this one: "tyrant lizard king"
Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature - a fantastic compilation of weird names of species both living and extinct by Mark Isaak.
A Fly Called Iyaiyai by Susan Milius
A Dinosaur Named Bambi?!
Paleontology and Geology Glossary at Enchanted Learning