Dinosaur Names

Dinosaur names follow the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, a set of rules that govern all scientific names for living or extinct organisms.

The code requires that a scientific name be composed of two parts. The first part, called the genus, is always capitalized; the second, called the specific epithet, is never capitalized. Both names are always italicized, and sometimes the genus name is abbreviated (as in T. rex for Tyrannosaurus rex). The genus name may be used alone to refer to all the species in a particular genus.

Watch the video above to hear Museum paleontologists explain the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Dinosaur Names and Their Meanings

Dinosaur Name Meanings

Dinosaur names are often made up of combinations of Greek and Latin root words that describe anatomical characteristics or how the animal might have behaved. Other dinosaur names might honor a person or denote where the fossil remains were discovered. In 1841, Richard Owen, the first director of London’s Natural History Museum, gave the name dinosaurs to these giant prehistoric reptiles. The word dinosaur is from the Greek deinos (terrible) and sauros (lizard). Some dinosaur names are short; others are tongue twisters.

Common Roots Found in Dinosaur Names  
Word Meaning
allo strange
apato deceptive
bronto thunder
cerat horned
compso pretty
deinos, dino terrible
echino spiked
elasmo plated
mega huge
micro small
nodo lumpy
ops face
ornitho bird
raptor robber
rex king
saur, saurus lizard
stego roof
tri three
tyranno tyrant