If you roamed Earth during the time of the dinosaurs, you might have met creatures such as Tammy the Triceratops, Tom the Tyrannosaurus, and Stan the Stegosaurus. How did they get names like Tammy, Tom, and Stan? They probably got them 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, Andrew Carnegie, who donated the money to fund the expedition that discovered the new dinosaur.
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.