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What's in a name?



The recent furore over the renaming of Syntarsus has set me thinking. Is there any logical reason - apart from aesthetics - to argue over inappropriate names? Well, yes, I believe there is.

Unlike insects, there is a lot of popular literature about dinosaurs, and most if that literature gives translations for the names. Who among us, when they were young(er) didn't sit down and memorize all the vital statistics of dinosaurs: length, time, place, and, yes, the meaning of the name. Not only is are meanings of names high profile, the general public expects names to be descriptive. They are not going to do deep research, and there is a real danger that the one fact people are going to remember about a dinosaur is the meaning of its name. Is "big dead lizard" the best thing to remember about Syntarsus?

I know that renaming every single species with a perfectly descriptive name is hardly practical. I am just arguing that the naming/renaming of a species is a serious business, and should be treated as such. There are good reasons for giving animals appropriate names.

As for all the legitimate bad names out there; maybe we should stop giving translations in books (Dinosaur Dictionaries, Encyclopedia's and A-Zs) and museums. Don't treat the names as if they are are an important fact about any animal. At least that way bad names will do no harm.

Maybe I'm wrong, I will bow to others superior knowledge on the subject. But the tour guide in me feels like it is a bit of a tall order explain the whole of the Dinosauria in 45 minutes, and bad names don't help me none. I'm sick of trying to explain to your average Joe that dinosaurs are not lizards, despite their name. If they did not know the meaning of the name "dinosauria", there would be no explaining to do, and things would be much simpler. Let's try not to make it any worse.

So, yes, Megapnosaurus means "big dead lizard", but mum's the word.