How to: Name a dinosaur


David Orr knows how to come up with a good name, as his blog, Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs, demonstrates. Now, in a guest blog at Scientific American, he turns his attention to the naming of dinosaurs. What inspires all those italicized monikers? How do you properly convert non-Latin words to (at least, vaguely) Latin-ish ones? Orr has the answers. In this excerpt, he talks about the name of a new theropod—a suborder of dinos that includes the T. rex and its bipedal, tiny-armed cousins …

One of the most inspired members of this class of dinosaur names comes from Romania. When I first read about it, it sounded like some beast out of Tolkein's Middle-Earth. But the island-dwelling theropod Balaur bondoc refers to actual mythology with a decidedly local flavor. It's standard for descriptions of dinosaurs to include sections on the etymology of their names, but Balaur's is exceptional, exploring the twisting roots of the word's various meanings that approach the evolutionary tree of life for richness and complexity. Lead author Zoltan Csiki writes that Balaur's name is "motivated both by the classical association between dinosaurs (especially theropods) and dragon-like creatures, as well as by the fact that balaur is a mythological creature with links to both reptiles (snakes) and birds (wings)…" Who knew that reading the description of a dinosaur could also be a lesson in Romanian mythology?

Scientific American: How to name a dinosaur

Illustration of Balaur bondoc by Emily Willoughby, via CC