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How Do Dinosaurs Get Their Names?

dinosaurs, names, nicknames
Dinosaurs earn their names from how they look, where they are found and even who found them. (Image credit: Francisco Gascó under the direction of Mike Taylor and Matt Wedel)

Dinosaurs earn their names just like Tiny Tim, Andre the Giant and William “The Fridge” Perry.

Sadly, dino names don’t always have the same ring to them. Take Pachycephalosaurus.

“Pachy” comes from the Greek word meaning thick; “cephale” means head; and “saurus” means lizard. Mush them all together and you’ve got a lizard topped off with a stocky noggin (though nowadays, scientists no longer classify dinosaurs as lizards).

Dino names can be mixtures of Greek or Latin words that describe physical features. Or they can be named after the location where scientists discovered the ancient reptile's fossils. For instance, Albertosaurus was found in Alberta, Canada.

Sometimes dinosaurs are given the name of a person who helped dig up the old bones. Diplodocus carnegii was named for Andrew Carnegie, who funded the expedition that discovered the big sauropod.

Newly described living animals today usually are named the same way.

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Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science, TODAY.com, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.