The 10 Strangest Dinosaur Names

The weirdest, wackiest, longest, and most inappropriate names given to dinosaurs

Here's a little-known fact about dinosaur names: after long, weary months collecting bones out in the field, cleaning them in the lab with tiny toothpicks, and laboriously piecing them together for further study, paleontologists can be forgiven for occasionally bestowing strange names on the objects of their research. Here are the 10 dinosaurs with the weirdest, funniest, and (in one or two cases) most inappropriate names.

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Ballista/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Dinosaur names always sound much more impressive in the original Greek than in English translation. That's especially true for Anatotitan, aka the "giant duck," a huge, Cretaceous-period hadrosaur that possessed a prominent duck-like bill. Anatotitan's bill was much less supple than that of a modern duck, though, and this dinosaur almost certainly didn't quack (or call its enemies "dethpicable.")

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Ricostruzione di Colepiocephale
Danny Cicchetti/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

"Colepio" is the Greek root for "knuckle," and "cephale" means "head"--put them together, and you've got a dinosaur straight out of a Three Stooges episode. This "knucklehead" didn't earn its name because it was dumber than other herbivores; rather, it was a type of pachycephalosaur ("thick-headed lizard") that sported an excess of bone on top of its noggin, which males butted against one another during mating season.

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Edward Drinker Cope

Popular Science Monthly/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

It's easy to picture the tiny ornithopod Drinker staggering around the swamps of northern Africa, out on yet another endless Jurassic binge. Drinker wasn't a dinosaur alcoholic, though; rather, this herbivore was named after the famous 19th-century American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. Oddly, Drinker may or may not be the same dinosaur as Othnielia, which was named after Cope's arch-rival in the "Bone Wars," Othniel C. Marsh.

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Full body reconstruction of Gasosaurus constructus.
Paleocolour/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Okay, you can stop laughing now—Gasosaurus didn't keep other predatory dinosaurs at bay by farting at them. Rather, this theropod was named by its surprised discoverers, the employees of a Chinese gas company doing excavation work. Gasosaurus weighed about 300 pounds, so yes, if burritos had been on the menu during the late Jurassic period, it might conceivably have been as toxic as your Uncle Milton.

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Irritator challengeri dinosaur

Mariana Ruiz/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After a long, hard day in the lab, paleontologists need a way to vent their pent-up frustration. Take Irritator, which was named by a, well, irritated researcher who had wasted valuable time chipping away the plaster added to its skull by an overeager amateur. Despite its moniker, though, there's no evidence that this close relative of Spinosaurus was any more annoying than other theropods of its kind.

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Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

If you're unfamiliar with the Buddhist deity Yama, you might be forgiven for believing that the small ceratopsian Yamaceratops was named after a sweet potato--making it the Mr. Potato Head of the Cretaceous period. Except for its name, though, Yamaceratops was a fairly unassuming dinosaur; its main claim to fame was that it lived in Asia tens of millions of years before its more famous North American descendant Triceratops.

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Karelj/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

For sheer unpronounceability—not to mention Borscht-belt punchline value--no dinosaur rivals Piatnitzkysaurus, which was named by the famous paleontologist Jose Bonaparte after an eminent colleague. The South American Piatnitzkysaurus was very similar to its northerly cousin, Allosaurus, with the exception that scientists don't say "Gesundheit!" when they hear its name.

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Bambiraptor skeleton in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Ballista/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Reality check: Walt Disney's Bambi was a sweet, naive, animated deer who made fast friends with his fellow forest creatures Flower and Thumper. His namesake, Bambiraptor, was a fierce, deer-sized raptor that would just as soon have swallowed Thumper whole as challenged him to a race. It does seem appropriate, though, that the remains of Bambiraptor were discovered by a pint-sized tweener.

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Hypothetical restoration of the basal ceratopsian Micropachycephalosaurus hongtuyanensis
IJReid/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The current record-holder for Longest Dinosaur Name, Micropachycephalosaurus (Greek for "tiny, thick-headed lizard") was a wee, inoffensive creature that probably weighed as much as your average house cat. It's unknown whether this pachycephalosaur romped and cavorted with its pint-sized contemporary, Nanotyrannus ("tiny tyrant"), but you have to admit, it makes for an arresting image.

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Wikimedia Commons

Every now and then, paleontologists in need of grant money are inclined to, well, "oversell" their finds. Such appears to have been the case with Titanophoneus ("giant murderer"), a pre-dinosaur therapsid that probably weighed as much as a Great Dane. Titanophoneus was surely dangerous to other, less aggressive animals, but hey, "giant murderer?" Tyrannosaurus Rex would doubtless object.

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "The 10 Strangest Dinosaur Names." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Strauss, Bob. (2021, February 16). The 10 Strangest Dinosaur Names. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The 10 Strangest Dinosaur Names." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).

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