What does "dinosaur" mean and how are dinosaurs given their names?
Darrin, 10, Brookline, Massachusetts
Dr. dig responds:
In 1841, Sir Richard Owen coined the word "dinosaur" to identify the fossils
of extinct reptiles. It traces its origins to the Greek words deinos,
meaning "terrible" or "fearfully great," and sauros, meaning
"lizard." Newly discovered dinosaurs are named by the discoverer or by
the palaeontologist who determines that it represents a new genus (or species). There are many different ways to choose a dinosaur name. Sometimes the name describes something special
about its body, head, or feet, such as the triceratops, which means
"three-horned head." Some dinosaurs are named after their size or behavior,
such as the gigantosaurus, meaning "gigantic lizard," and the
velociraptor, meaning "speedy robber." Others are named after the
place where they were found, such as the Utahraptor and the
Denversaurus, or they are named in honor of a person, such as the Chassternbergia (after Charles Sternberg, the discoverer). Giving names to dinosaurs is serious business and all new names
must be reviewed by a panel of scientists and approved by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.