Believe it or not… Tammy the Triceratops, Tom the Tyrannosaurus and Stan the Stegosaurus all got their names the same way you did! From their parents!

What? Oh! You want to know where the names Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus came from. Well, that’s a different story altogether…

Sir Richard Owen came up with the word “dinosaur” in 1841. He needed a new word to describe the fossils of extinct reptiles that were being discovered. “Dinosaur” was created by combining the Greek words deinos, which means “terrible,” and sauros, which means “lizard.”

We now know that dinosaurs aren’t lizards. However, “terrible lizard” did seem to describe the early fossils that were found!

Today, new dinosaurs are named by either the person who discovered the new dinosaur’s remains or the paleontologist who verifies that the fossils found are indeed from a new dinosaur. But how do they decide what to name it?

There aren’t any special rules for naming new dinosaurs. Over time, though, dinosaur names seem to come about in just a few ways.

Sometimes new dinosaurs are named after people. For example, Diplodocus carnegii was named after the person who donated the money to fund the expedition that discovered the new dinosaur: Andrew Carnegie.

Likewise, Chassternbergia was named after Charles Sternberg, who discovered the dinosaur’s fossils. Leaellynasaura was named after the daughter (Leaellyn) of the paleontologists (Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers) who discovered the dinosaur’s skull.

Other dinosaurs might be named after the place where they were discovered. For example, Utahraptor and Denversaurus were named for Utah and Denver. Albertosaurus was found in Alberta, Canada, and Arctosaurus was found near the Arctic Circle.

Similarly, Muttaburrasaurus was discovered near Muttaburra, Australia. Huayangosaurus was found in Huayang, China.

Most of the time, though, a dinosaur’s name tells us something about the dinosaur itself. Scientists often use Greek or Latin root words to give a new dinosaur a name that describes the dinosaur in some way.

For example, Triceratops means “three-horned head,” which is a good description of what Triceratops looks like. Likewise, Gigantosaurus means “gigantic lizard.”

Iguanadon has teeth like an iguana. The scientist who discovered Pachycephalosaurus thought it looked like a thick-headed lizard, which led to its name. In Greek, pachy means “thick,” cephale means “head” and saurus means “lizard.”

Once a new name is chosen, it must be reviewed by a panel of scientists. Finally, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature must give final approval of the name before it’s official.


40 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (40 votes, avg. 4.38 out of 5)
  1. I think that it is really interesting how dinosaurs are named after Greek and Latin words. At school, we learned lots of new words. I am excited to make a new dinosaur and draw a picture of it!! I will send it to you soon!!! :)

    P.S. I think that tomorrows wonder is about the water cycle because when water goes through the stages, it changes matter.

    • We can’t wait to see your dinosaur, Meredith! We know it will be creative…just like you! Thanks so much for your great comment today! :-)

    • Hi, Liddie! We love pumpkin pie, too! Thank you for visiting today. We’re glad your sister is sharing Wonderopolis with you…she’s a GREAT Wonder Friend!

    • That’s OK, Meredith…she’s FUNNY! Thank you for introducing your sister to Wonderopolis. We love to hear about families learning together! :-)

  2. I love this example about how Greek and Latin form these exciting dinosaur words. I love the real life application. I agree with Meredith it would be fun to create some new dinosaurs and draw pictures. Mine would be anurospionoomitho. (tall spined bird) What a fun summer project. I am also excited that Meredith is sharing the site with her younger sister :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this! In LETRS training, we spend time on Greek and Latin Roots/Origins…this would tie in very well to help support the need for understanding to students…Thanks for this post! I love your FB page too!

    • Thanks for such a GREAT comment, Jodi! We’re so glad when we hear ways folks are using the Wonders of the Day to amplify learning in the classroom and at home! Thanks for being a friend of Wonderopolis on Facebook, too! :-)

    • Hi there, Jeanette! Thanks for letting us know the types of activities that would have helped you learn more with this Wonder of the Day®! We appreciate your comment very much! :-)

    • We think it’s fun to think of all the awesome things dinosaurs used to do every day, Jeanette! Some archeologists believe that there might have been a few types of dinosaurs that were capable of swimming. Can you imagine a big dino doing the back-stroke or a cannonball? That would be a HUGE splash! :-)

    • We are SO super happy to hear that, Ingrid! Thanks for letting us know you visited Wonderopolis today and also for leaving us this AWESOME comment! :-)

  4. Thanks so much Wonderopolis for getting us wondering about something new each and every day. We visit your site every day as part of our homeschool program. I can’t imagine starting our school day without you.

    • Your comment made our day, Mom of 3! Thank you for sharing that you explore Wonderopolis together each day as part of your homeschool curriculum. We’re proud to be a part of your family’s learning experience! :-)

  5. Let’s see… Well TanyPteryMessarRaptor… How awesome is that?
    Yeahhh I knew that you would say that it was awesome like me!!!!
    Wonderopolis is the best!!!!
    ~Courtney Messar<3~

    • We really like the name of your dinosaur, Courtney! The “Long-Winged Messar Thief” sounds AWESOME (like you!)! :-)

  6. Dear wonderopolis,
    That song is really catchy……. and if the dinosaurs were still alive they’d be singing it……..

    From Grant & caden
    :) :) :) :)

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed this dino-riffic Wonder, Grant and Caden! We like your style, we think the dinos would enjoy the Wonder video song, too! Thanks for making us smile today! :)

    • HOORAY, we’re so excited you learned something new with us today, Livey! We Wonder what you would name a dinosaur if they were still walking around on Earth today? :)

  7. My class and I are going to do a dinosaur project, and Wonderopolis is giving me a lot of answers for the dinosaur project.

  8. We really enjoyed the song about the dinosaurs. We would also like to see some games to help us learn the greek and latin roots so that we can remember the dinosaur names.

    • Hello, Mrs. Wade’s Class! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! We like your game suggestion! That sounds like fun! For now, you can take the Wonder Word Challenge which is a matching game. To access it, simply click on the button below the Wonder Words. Keep WONDERing, Wonder Friends! :-)

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us, Talia! Dinosaurs and lizards are both classified as reptiles and they share a common ancestor from a couple hundred million years ago, but they evolved differently over the years and became different types of animals. There are differences in many of their body systems, such as their skeletal systems. The study of how animals evolved is fascinating and we hope you’ll continue WONDERing and learning about reptiles! :)

  9. Hi from Mrs. Wokanick’s class at Round Hill Elementary School in Washingtonville, New York! We are in first grade and we work hard everyday! In our class we are learning about dinosaurs and we have some questions for you.

    “How did the T-rex become the king of the dinosaurs?” -Nick
    “Why did the dinosaur with the horns look like a rhino?” -Kaitlyn
    “How did they get so strong?” – Collin
    “What dinosaur is strongest of them all?” -Riley
    “Were dinosaurs smart if they only had a brain the size of a pea?” -Natalie
    “What is the longest dinosaur name?” -Mrs. Wokanick

    We liked watching your video. We can’t wait to hear your answers!

    -Mrs. Wokanick’s Class

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do dinosaurs get their names?
  • What does “dinosaur” mean?
  • If you discovered a new dinosaur, what would you name it?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to name your own dinosaur? Pretend that you’re a paleontologist who has just discovered the fossilized remains of a brand-new dinosaur. What would you name it?

You could use your own name or the name of a friend or family member. You could also use a name related to the place you found your dinosaur. Did you find it in your hometown? Maybe you’d like a dinosaur named after your state or country?

Instead, maybe you’d like to name your dinosaur something that describes it. What does your dinosaur look like? Does it have any unusual features?

Use the root words below to come up with a name that might fit your new dinosaur:

  • Anklo – crooked
  • Anuro – tail
  • Cephalo – head
  • Cero – horn
  • Dont – tooth
  • Masso – body
  • Ornitho – bird
  • Ptery – wing
  • Raptor – thief
  • Spino – spine
  • Styrax – spike
  • Tany – long

If you want, feel free to share your new dinosaur with us. Email or send us a picture of your new dinosaur. Make sure to tell us what you named it and why!

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Still Wondering

Wondering where all the dinosaurs went? Check out Science NetLinks’ Dinosaurs 1: Where Are the Dinosaurs? lesson to learn more!


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