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The Naming of Dinosaurs ”“ the Greek Connection II

The behaviors of dinosaurs have played a role in the naming of the prehistoric creatures. Speed, temperament, and other attributes were figured in when paleontologists went to give names to their specimens. In this article, you will encounter the meaning behind certain dinosaur names, including the infamous T-Rex.

Dinosaur Behaviors

When breaking down the name of one of the most infamous of dinosaurs ”“ the fierce meat-eating Tyrannosaurus Rex ”“ you will notice ‘Tyranno’ means tyrant, while ‘Rex’ means king. If you were a meat eater, you may have the prefix ‘Carno’ as seen in the Carnotaurus, Carnosaur, and Carnosaurus. Raptors were given their name for their hunting and thieving qualities. If you were a fast dinosaur, you may have ‘Veloci’ in your name, like the Velociraptor ”“ “the fast hunter.” Sometimes, the behaviors may have not been entirely truthful or under a misconception, as seen in the case of the Oviraptor, who is going down in history as the ‘egg thief.’   

Dinosaurs with Animal-like Characteristics

At times, a dinosaur fossil reminds a paleontologist of a creature that exists today ”“ sharing some of their physical or perceived characteristics. From having the same shape head to having the ability to fly, some of the animals of today have influenced the naming of dinosaurs. Bird-like dinosaurs may include ‘Avis,’ ‘Ornith,’ or ‘Ornis,’ in its name. A dog-like dinosaur may be referred to as being ‘cyno-‘.  A fish-like creature may have ‘Ichthyo’ in its name. Examples of such connections include:

The Gallimimus (translates into ‘rooster mimic’) ”“ this ostrich-like dinosaur measured about 17 feet long.

The Cetiosauriscus (refers to a whale-like lizard) ”“ this sauropod dinosaur was a whip-tailed plant-eater from the mid-Jurassic period.

Dinosaur Shapes and Sizes

The size and shape of body parts would help paleontologists determine how to name a dinosaur specimen. They would look at the leg bones, feet, shape of their head, and size of their bodies. Heavy creatures may include ‘Baro’ in their name. Big creatures were referred to as ‘macro-‘ while small lizards were described as ‘micro-‘. Huge dinosaurs were called ‘Megalo-‘ and if you were short, you might have ‘brachy-‘ in your name. Other indicators of size and shape include:

  • Nano ”“ Tiny
  • Placo or Platy ”“ Flat
  • Sphaero ”“ Round
  • Titano ”“ Giant
  • Pachy ”“Thick
  • Styraco ”“ Spiked

Location of Fossils

Sometimes, dinosaurs are simply named for the location where their fossils were first uncovered. The initial Edmontosaurus fossil was found in Canada. Another Canadian find was the Albertosaurus, which was a relative of the T-rex. In the United States, the Utahraptor pays homage to Utah, while the Denversaurus was discovered in Denver, Colorado. The Andesaurus was a dinosaur that lived during the Cretaceous period, and was first discovered in the Andes Mountains of South America. Found in Lesotho, South Africa, the Lesothosaurus was a lightweight herbivore that represented some of the earliest dinosaurs. If a dinosaur was connected to Antarctic, it may start with ‘Antarcto.’ Southern-related creatures were named with the ‘Austro’ prefix.