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How Do Dinosaurs Get Their Names?

Giving any living or extinct organism a scientific name is governed by a set of rules called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, and paleontologists who name dinosaurs must follow those rules to make the name valid. Although this process may seem unnecessary, it is extremely important in making sure that all paleontologists understand what kind of dinosaur is being referred to when a name is used.The code requires that a scientific name be composed to two parts. The first part, called the genus, is always capitalized; the second, called the species 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.The first person to describe a new kind of dinosaur assigns the animal its name, and these names are often derived from Greek or Latin words. Many names reflect key characteristics of the animal, such as the place the specimen was collected, the person who collected the fossil, or one of the animal's unusual anatomical characteristics.The new name is based on one particular fossil, which is called the type specimen, and this type specimen must be complete enough to exhibit features that clearly distinguish it from all other species. Any specimens discovered later that are thought to belong to the new species must be found to have no significant differences with the type specimen.This video is part of a series, "Dinosaurs Explained," produced by the American Museum of Natural History. In the series, Museum paleontologists answer the most frequently asked questions about dinosaurs.To watch the videos, go to Click on the "Dinosaurs Explained" Tab on the left side of the page. In the playlist, start with the first question and play each video consecutively for a mini-course in dinosaur fossils.
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