How to Translate Dinosaur Names

Learn the Greek Roots Used to Name Dinosaurs

man looking at t rex skeleton

Getty Images/Pat Canova

If it sometimes seems as if the names of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals come from another language, well, there's a simple explanation: the names of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals really do come from another language. Traditionally, paleontologists the world over use Greek to christen new species and genera — not only of dinosaurs, but also of birds, mammals, and even microbes. Partly this is a matter of convention, but partly it's rooted in common sense: classical Greek and Latin have been the shared languages of scholars and scientists for hundreds of years. (Lately, though, there has been a trend for using non-Greek roots to name dinosaurs and prehistoric animals; hence sibilant beasts like Suuwassea and Thililua.)

But enough about all that: what good does this information do you if you have to decode a mouthful of a name like Micropachycephalosaurus? The following is a list of the most common Greek words used in dinosaur names, along with their English equivalents. If you want to have some fun, try assembling your own fictional dinosaur from the ingredients below (here's a nonsense example to get you started: Tristyracocephalogallus, or the extremely rare "three-headed spiky chicken.")


Mono = One
Di = Two
Tri = Three
Tetra = Four
Penta = Five

Body Parts

Brachio = Arm
Cephalo = Head
Cerato = Horn
Cheirus = Hand
Colepio = Knuckle
Dactyl = Finger
Derma = Skin
Don, dont = Tooth
Gnathus = Jaw
Lopho = Crest
Nychus = Claw
Ophthalmo = Eye
Ops = Face
Physis = Face
Ptero = Wing
Pteryx = Feather
Rhampho = Beak
Rhino = Nose
Rhyncho = Snout
Tholus = Dome
Trachelo = Neck

Animal Types

Anato = Duck
Avis = Bird
Cetio = Whale
Cyno = Dog
Draco = Dragon
Gallus = Chicken
Hippus = Horse
Ichthyo = Fish
Mus = Mouse
Ornitho, Ornis = Bird
Saurus = Lizard
Struthio = Ostrich
Suchus = Crocodile
Taurus = Bull

Size and Shape

Baro = Heavy
Brachy = Short
Macro = Big
Megalo = Huge
Micro = Small
Morpho = Shaped
Nano = Tiny
Nodo = Knobbed
Placo, Platy = Flat
Sphaero = Round
Titano = Giant
Pachy = Thick
Steno = Narrow
Styraco = Spiked


Archo = Ruling
Carno = Meat-eating
Deino, Dino = Terrible
Dromeus = Runner
Gracili = Graceful
Lestes = Robber
Mimus = Mimic
Raptor = Hunter, Thief
Rex = King
Tyranno = Tyrant
Veloci = Fast

Times, Places, and Assorted Features

Antarcto = Antarctic
Archaeo = Ancient
Austro = Southern
Chasmo = Cleft
Coelo = Hollow
Crypto = Hidden
Eo = Dawn
Eu = Original, First
Hetero = Different
Hydro = Water
Lago = Lake
Mio = Miocene
Nycto = Night
Ovi = Egg
Para = Near, Almost
Pelta = Shield
Plio = Pliocene
Pro, Proto = Before
Sarco = Flesh
Stego = Roof
Thalasso = Ocean

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "How to Translate Dinosaur Names." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 29). How to Translate Dinosaur Names. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "How to Translate Dinosaur Names." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 3, 2022).