How Dinosaurs Get Their Names

Those who have the honor of naming a new species can put a lot of thought into it, to come up with a wonderfully evocative name like Tyrannosaurus rex. Or they can go the easy route, like whoever named Allosaurus -it means "different lizard." And then there are names that make us want to know the story behind it, like Pantydraco.

For many, naming one of these ancient beasts is serious business. “To me, choosing a name for a new dinosaur species has always been a heavy task,” says North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences paleontologist Lindsay Zanno. Not only are names necessary for scientific communication, but dinosaurs—like planets—have their own pop culture pull that makes naming a new species a way to excite the public. “If wisely chosen, a name can become a vector for connecting nature and humanity through shared culture, for inspiring curiosity, or for awakening a long dead species in our collective imaginations,” Zanno says.

But now that new species are found more often, names get pulled from every corner of society. Read about dinosaur naming conventions and how they have changed at Smithsonian. By the way, the "panty" in Pantydraco is a Welsh word.

(Image credit: Nobu Tamura)


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