Blog: Carlita the Croc

The Name Game

Boaty McBoatface

Have you heard of Boaty McBoatface? It is a British research vessel and represents the mass intelligence of the human race harnessed to collectively name a boat.  Well done, humans. You must be so proud.  

It’s not surprising, though.  The most revered members of society also resort to silliness when it comes to naming things.  Case and point: celebrities naming their children.  Those with unique names outside of the common repertoire, like Jamelah, Elijah, Dwana, Liam, know what it’s like to have people mispronounce or misspell your name on the reg.  There is very little joy in it.  So to name one’s child something like “Moxie Crimefighter,” “Tu Morrow,” or “Jermajesty” (yes, these are the actual names of celebrity children) seems particularly self-centered and absurd.  

This is much different than the virtuous scientific community which resorts only to honor and dignity when naming the stately animals that are discovered and upholds the highest standards of seriousness. Right?

Yeah right, tell that to the guy who named the Western Lowland Gorilla: Gorilla gorilla gorilla.  


The truth is, scientists probably come up with some of the goofiest names of all.  What makes it worse (or awesome?) is the fact that these names will be used in professional settings all around the world for many, many years.  

You see, one of the great thing about science is that when a biologist discovers a new species of animal, they have the honor of choosing its scientific binomial name – the genus and/or species name.  Here are the rules for choosing a name: 1. no dirty words, 2. must use the Latin alphabet.  That’s it.  

Some scientists take a practical approach and use the opportunity to give the animal a scientific name that describes its appearance or where it comes from, often using Greek or Latin roots.  Consider Medialuna californiensis which is the Pacific halfmoon fish.  There’s also the Heloderma genus of lizards, which all have studded (helo) skin (derma), like the Gila monster or Mexican beaded lizard.   

Gila monster 

How about Neofelis nebulosa?

Did you guess this names means “cloudy young cat” or Clouded Leopard?

Then there’s Halichoerus gryphus.  Fancy a guess for this animal?  Its name translates to hook-nosed sea-pig...

…otherwise known as the grey seal. A bit harsh, but descriptive nonetheless.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the silly names that biologists sometimes assign animals.  Some in the scientific community have taken the opportunity to let their freak flag fly, like Aphonopelma johnnycashi: the Johnny Cash tarantula, and Smaug giganteus, giant Smaug lizard. 

Smaug lizard- Giant girdled lizard or Sungazer

Or Dracorex hogwartsia, the king dragon of Hogwarts!

Can you spot the inspiration for these scientific names?
Ytu brutus (beetle)
Scaptia beyonce (horse fly)
Preseucoila imallshookupis (wasp)
Darthvaderum sp. (mites)

So, reader, I challenge you to look up the scientific name of your favorite animal and see if it’s a silly one, too.  Tweet it to me @candidcroc! 

Posted: 4/6/2016 11:28:02 AM by

Carlita the Croc

I'm Carlita the Croc, here to deliver my candid views on various topics, articles, news, and stories in conservation. For the latest news follow me on Twitter, for striking photos follow me on Instagram.


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