Once upon a time, binomial nomenclature was expected to follow Latin rules: the genus had to be a noun and the species had to be an adjective that agreed with the genus according to Latin rules of adjectival agreement with the noun modified by it. That’s why we have species names like sativus, sativa, and sativum seen again and again, the exact form depending on the genus’s gender.

So if knew a bit of Greek and Latin, you could figure out something about what binomials such as Stegosaurus armatus or Dodecatheon pulchellum might be about.

Enter 2014, and with it such new binomials as the ponderous Dreadnoughtus schrani. That looks more like Dog Latin than Classical Latin: just tack a few Latinate-looking suffixes to words that cannot be decoded using any known roots from Greek or Latin.

When I first read about it, I honestly thought somebody was making a bad joke. It’s not like the Greeks and Romans never thought of fearing nothing; one might imagine a taxon built out of actual classical roots — perhaps like *Timendumnihil — would have been more universally understandable than the Dog-Latin form Dreadnoughtus we’ve been stuck with.

Is there no requirement that new taxa have classical forms? Was there ever, and if so, when and why did this change? Or, if there was not, then why did everybody seem to go along with the scheme for so long?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not a latinologist, but I don't think new words have been added to latin or (classical) greek in a long time. This creates a limited vocabulary, and new taxa may not fit the classical vocabulary. Additionally, classical languages are no longer widely taught, so the average person may have more exposure to pseudo latin than to real latin. Pseudo latin may also be more easily understood by the lay audience than real latin. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Dec 31, 2014 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


There is an International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, to which submissions for new organisms' names is strongly recomended. The discoverer does have some leeway within this system if there is no Latin name that well-describes this species. Your example is one of many.

Chapter 31, for example, clearly states:

31.1.1. A species-group name, if a noun in the genitive case formed from a personal name that is Latin, or from a modern personal name that is or has been latinized, is to be formed in accordance with the rules of Latin grammar.

Examples. Margaret, if latinized to Margarita or Margaretha, gives the genitives margaritae or margarethae; similarly Nicolaus Poda, even though the name of a man, if accepted as a Latin name, gives podae; Victor and Hercules, if accepted as Latin names, give victoris and herculis; the name of Plinius, a Roman, even though anglicized to Pliny, gives plinii; Fabricius and Sartorius, if treated as Latin names, give fabricii and sartorii, but if treated as modern names give fabriciusi and sartoriusi; Cuvier, if latinized to Cuvierius, gives cuvierii.

31.1.2. A species-group name, if a noun in the genitive case (see Article formed directly from a modern personal name, is to be formed by adding to the stem of that name -i if the personal name is that of a man, -orum if of men or of man (men) and woman (women) together, -ae if of a woman, and -arum if of women; the stem of such a name is determined by the action of the original author when forming the genitive.

Example. Under this provision, the species-group names podai from Poda, victori from Victor, and cuvieri from Cuvier are admissible. The names puckridgei and puckridgi may be formed from Puckridge.

Similar rules apply for genus and family names.

Since your example was a new genus and species, it didn't "fit" into previous categories (in the future, if and when similar discoveries are made that shed light on the genus' relation to others, the name can and will be changed accordingly, with or without the authors' approval).

According to the research team that discovered the taxon, the genus name Dreadnoughtus "alludes to the gigantic body size of the (which presumably rendered healthy adult individuals nearly impervious to attack)" and to the two dreadnought battleships of the Argentine Navy, the ARA Rivadavia and ARA Moreno. Thus, the genus name also honors the country (Argentina) in which Dreadnoughtus schrani was discovered. The name of the type species, schrani, was given in recognition of the American entrepreneur Adam Schran for his financial support of the project. - Wikipedia

A "good" or "useful" taxon is commonly taken to be one that reflects evolutionary relationships. Since this one does not, in a few decades, this name may well be gone.

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    $\begingroup$ Brava for a well-documented answer! I hadn’t realized that it might get its name revised that easily. And your genitive mention reminded me of last year’s new orchid species in an existing genus, Lophiaris silverarum — “of the Silveras” in the genitive plural -arum. $\endgroup$
    – tchrist
    Dec 31, 2014 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ Names get revised all the time, especially now with the ability to determine relationships genetically.I feel bad for pathologists, who must face the reclassification of bacteria regularly, it seems. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2014 at 23:39

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