Tyrannosaurus Rex? Stegosaurus? Pterodactyl? What does it all mean? It may seem random or strange, but there’s a method to how scientists name dinosaurs species, and it actually makes a lot of sense!
A Combination of Greek and Latin
In the Middle Ages (476 CE to the 14th century), scientists commonly spoke Latin and Greek. Like the scientists before him, biologist Carl Linnaeus spoke Latin and wrote in Latin when he invented binomial nomenclature. This system helps us organize, classify, and name plant and animal species. While the names are typically Latin, they’re also Greek; after all, there are only so many words in one language! This is why scientific names, including the names of dinosaurs, sound a little strange to English speakers, as Latin is a “dead language” and no longer spoken commonly.
The General Rules
Every scientist has to follow a few binomial nomenclature rules. The name of the species must have two parts: The generic epithet (genus) and the specific epithet (characteristic). The generic epithet must be capitalized, while the specific epithet isn’t. The entire name must always be italicized, so you’ll often see T-Rex written as Tyrannosaurus rex.
Genus is often confused for species, and while they’re similar, they aren’t exactly the same. The genus is the generic name, while the species is the specific name in binomial nomenclature. For example, the brown bear belongs to the genus Ursus, and its species name is Ursus arctos. Funny enough, Ursus arctos just means “bear-bear” in Latin and Greek, respectively.
How Are Dinosaurs Named?
Let’s use an easy example. The Tyrannosaurus rex is the species and how it’s identified in binomial nomenclature. The first part of its name is its genus and translates to “tyrant lizard.” The second part of a species’ name can be where it was found, a defining characteristic of the species, or the name of the scientist themself. In the case of the T-Rex, rex is the Latin word for king. When translated into English, Tyrannosaurus rex literally means “terrible lizard king.”
If you’re wondering why they would even give a defining characteristic to an animal that’s the only genus in its species, it’s because scientists have theorized there’s more than one genus of Tyrannosaurus. Tyrannosaurus rex just happens to be the one we know, and based on fossil findings, there are potentially three Tyrannosaurus types!
Now that you know how scientists name dinosaur species, you’re probably excited to know what the next dinosaur’s name will be. If you’re a dinosaur fan like us, our beasts of the Mesozoic Ceratopsian series has an array of iconic favorites like the Triceratops or the Albertaceratops!