What do you call a dinosaur with a really long nose?

I was wandering through the Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog the other day, and stumbled across a piece by Gary Nunn that really made me smile. It’s all about the names scientists give species and organisms when they discover them.

The dinosaur names have to be my favourites. The Latin versions we know conjure up images planted by films like Jurassic Park. But their translations give us a very different and much more descriptive insight. We go from the big, angry, scaley, stompy Velociraptor, to the crafty, lithe and tactical ‘Swift Thief’.

Then there are the less famous dinosaurs – the likes of Psittacosaurus Mongoliensis. I couldn’t imagine what that creature might look like. But when I read the translation ‘Parrot Lizard of Mongolia’, all of a sudden I became a lot more interested in palaeontology.

Beyond the world of dinosaurs, scientists are comparing the critters they’re discovering to the celebrities they admire. Like the rare horsefly with a gold patch on its back: the Scaptia Beyonceae.

I love how much personality these names pack into subjects most people don’t get excited by. (I’ve certainly never been interested in horseflies before Beyoncé entered the picture.) And I think some of that creativity comes from the naming system scientists have to stick to: the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

I’m not saying everyone should use celebrities to name their products or services (the ‘50 Cent Saving Scheme’, anyone?), but I do know that a few constraints can bring out stronger, more creative and more consistent names. They mean you’re not starting with a completely blank slate; you’ve got a direction to go in. They help you edit out the weaker names, the ones that don’t fit the rules, and coax you down the path of stronger ones.

So if you need a hand making your names a little more Quianzhousaurus Sinesis* and a little less ‘Premium Logistical Solutions’, get in touch.

 

*‘Pinocchio Rex’

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