Published: May 11, 2017

What's in a Name? That Which We Call a Dinosaur

Eric Gorscak, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Integrative Research Center

Once a new species is determined, the fun of coming up with the perfect name begins. These dinosaurs are named for a variety of people who have contributed to paleontological research.

A woman seated on a rocky hill, wearing a hat and smiling at the camera. Next to that, an illustration of a large orange dinosaur.

Dinosaur discoveries are always exciting; each fossil has the potential to solve a mystery about dinosaurs’ evolutionary history. Perhaps the most exciting discoveries for both paleontologists and non-paleontologists alike are new species. But establishing a new dinosaur is no easy task! The fossils must be carefully extracted from the field and transported to the research labs where they are prepared (the process of carefully removing the surrounding rock and issuing any repairs). Then, scientists conduct detailed anatomical examinations and comparisons, and, finally, analyze this new data to determine if the discovery is a different species.

Once a new species is determined, the fun of coming up with the perfect name begins. There are many ways to name a dinosaur, and inspiration can come from anywhere. A new species name may come from the place it was discovered, highlight a weird or unique feature, make reference to the local culture, or draw on whatever the imagination can come up with (within reason, of course!). However, naming a new dinosaur after a special person is, hands down, one of the coolest ways to be honored. These dinosaurs are named for a variety of people who have contributed to paleontological research in different ways:

Gualicho shinyae: A Field Museum find

(Apesteguía et al., 2016)

This theropod dinosaur’s small arms (the size of a human child’s!) and two-fingered claws bear resemblance to T. rex but, in fact, it evolved independently. Gualicho shinyae is an allosaurid from the Late Cretaceous that was discovered in the Huincul Formation of northern Patagonia. Its name pays homage both to local culture and the person who found it: Gualicho comes from Gualichu, a spirit revered by Patagonia’s Tehuelche people. Shinyae honors the Field Museum’s own Akiko Shinya, chief fossil preparator. She uncovered the fossil right at the end of the team’s expedition in Patagonia. A fairly large carnivorous theropod, Gualicho shinyae is an unusual find that shows characteristics from many different kinds of theropods, proving its phylogenetic relationship difficult to resolve until more fossils of this strange beast are found.

Dreadnoughtus schrani: Named for an internet entrepreneur  

Three large dinosaur leg bones in a lab or storage area

(Lacovara et al., 2014)

Dreadnoughtus schrani, as the name suggests, was one of the largest land animals ever to live and is estimated to have weighed up to 60 tons. Dreadnoughtus belongs to the aptly named group of sauropod dinosaurs called titanosaurs. Although several other titanosaurs were potentially larger than Dreadnoughtus, this giant from the Late Cretaceous Cerro Fortaleza Formation of Argentina is the most complete skeleton of the biggest of the big, among currently known titanosaurs. Looking at the internal microstructure from the limb bones, histological analyses suggest that the Dreadnoughtus specimen was not fully grown at the time of death and may have continued to grow to an even larger size. The species name, D. schrani, refers to Adam Schran, an internet entrepreneur from Philadelphia who provided financial assistance to the team on this huge discovery.

Masiakasaurus knopfleri: Paying homage to a British rocker

An elongated animal skull with many pointed teeth sticking out beyond the jaw

(Sampson et al., 2001)

Masiakasaurus knopfleri was one strange looking meat-eating dinosaur. For one, the front teeth in the lower jaw were procumbent. In other words, these teeth weirdly pointed forward out of the mouth. Furthermore, the teeth of the lower jaw transition from being elongated and pointy in the front to being more curved and serrated towards the back of the jaw. Masiakasaurus knopfleri belongs to the dinosaur group Noasauridae within the larger Abelisauroidea, a mysterious group of theropods known from a handful of species from the supercontinent of Gondwana in the southern hemisphere. Masiakasaurus knopfleri hails from the Late Cretaceous Maevarano Formation of Madagascar alongside another odd abelisauroid, Majungasaurus crenatissimus. The species name, M. knopfleri, honors singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler, best known from the band Dire Straits, whose music was a source of inspiration during the expedition. Money for nothing and this name for free.

Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum: A dinosaur with a presidential (candidate) name

Illustration of three large triceratops-like dinosaurs with exaggerated noses and horns

(Fiorillo and Tykoski, 2012)

A relative of the iconic Triceratops, the centrosaurine ceratopsid Pachyrhinosaurus is known from three different species: P. canadensis, P. lakustai, and P. perotorum. Not surprisingly, P. canadensis honors our friendly neighbor to the north. P. lakustai honors Al Lakusta, who discovered the bone bed for this species, and P. perotorum honors Margot and Ross Perot and family, who are avid supporters of science and the namesake for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. Pachyrhinosaurus exhibits unusually large and robust nasal knobs (i.e., “bosses”), rather than the typical orbital and nasal horns seen in its cousins like Triceratops. Pachyrhinosaurus is known from the Late Cretaceous of North America with the remains of P. perotorum discovered as far north as Alaska in the Prince Creek Formation.

Sirindhorna khoratensis: A dinosaur fit for royalty

Illustration of the head of a large green and yellow lizard-like animal

(Shibata et al., 2015)

In 2015, the early hadrosauroid Sirindhorna khoratensis was described and named to honor Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the princess of Thailand, for her continuous support of paleontological endeavors in Thailand. Sirindhorna khoratensis was discovered in the Early Cretaceous Khok Krut Formation in Thailand, and the species name honors the area from which the fossils were recovered: Khorat, the informal name for the Nakhon Ratchasima Province in northeastern Thailand. Sirindhorna is known from an almost complete skull and represents one of the earliest hadrosauroids yet discovered. Sirindhorna is not the only dinosaur that honors Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. In 1994, Phuwiangosaurus sirindhornae honored her in the form of an Early Cretaceous euhelopodid sauropod dinosaur. 

Torvosaurus gurneyi: Drawing inspiration from a paleoartist

Black and white illustration of a large dinosaur skeleton standing over a human silhouette, with a few bones colored in red or blue.

(Hendrickx & Mateus, 2014)

Torvosaurus gurneyi was a fearsome predator from the Late Jurassic Lourinhã Formation in Portugal. It also has a North American relative, the species Torvosaurus tanneri, known from the famous Morrison Formation. In fact, both formations sport very similar paleoenvironments and related faunas (e.g., species of allosaurs, ceratosaurs, diplodocids) due to Europe and North America being mostly connected during the Jurassic Period. Both Torvosaurus species belong to Megalosauridae, a group of Jurassic theropods with a history of obscure relationships with each other and to other theropod groups. Torvosaurus gurneyi holds the title of largest theropod dinosaur so far discovered in Europe. The species name, T. gurneyi, is an homage to James Gurney, a well-known paleoartist and creator of the universally beloved Dinotopia books that influenced many young paleontologists, including myself.

Eric Gorscak is a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum focusing on African dinosaurs and paleobiogeography of the southern continents. 



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Fiorillo, A. R., and R. S. Tykoski. 2012. A new Maastrichtian species of the centrosaurine ceratopsid Pachyrhinosaurus from the North Slope of Alaska. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 57:561–573.

Fiorillo, A. R., and R. S. Tykoski. 2013. An immature Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum (Dinosauria: Ceratopsidae) nasal reveals unexpected complexity of craniofacial ontogeny and integument in Pachyrhinosaurus. Plos One 8:e65802–10.

Hendrickx, C., and O. Mateus. 2014. Torvosaurus gurneyi n. sp., the largest terrestrial predator from Europe, and a proposed terminology of the maxilla anatomy in nonavian theropods. Plos One 9:e88905 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088905

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Sampson, S. D., M. T. Carrano, and C. A. Forster. 2001. A bizarre predatory dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Nature 409:504–506.

Shibata, M., P. Jintasakul, Y. Azuma, and H.-L. You. 2015. A new basal hadrosauroid dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Khok Kruat Formation in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, northeastern Thailand. Plos One 10:e0145904–28.