Draconic nomenclature

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Madeline K. Sofia, "'Baby Dragon' Found In China Is The Newest Species Of Dinosaur" (NPR, 5/9/17) clarifies the origin of Beibeilong sinensis, the newest dinosaur species:

In 1993, farmers in China found a Beibeilong embryo and eggs in Henan province. The fossils were sold to an American fossil company called The Stone Co. and brought to the United States. A model of an embryo curled inside an egg was famously featured on the May 1996 cover of National Geographic and was nicknamed "Baby Louie."

When the farmers sold the fossils to the American company, they seem to have referred to it as "Bèibèi lóng 贝贝龙 / 貝貝龍", where bèi 贝 / means “shellfish, cowrie; money, currency; valuables”, with the implication of "precious", though here bèibèi 贝贝 is functioning as the transcription of English "baby".  Cf. "Bèibèi panda" (9/26/15).  The Americans heard "Bèibèi lóng" and, mimicking the sounds, coined the moniker "Baby Louie".

Additional articles:

"Winged dinosaur the size of an elephant once lived in China, scientists discover" (John von Radowitz, Independent, 5/9/17)

"Smuggled dino eggs gave birth to ‘baby dragons’" (Sid Perkins, Science, 5/9/17)

"Baby Louie, an infant dinosaur with a checkered past, finally gets a proper name" (Ben Guarino, Washington Post, 5/9/17)

Yes, now it has a proper scientific name, but in truth it the Latinization of the Chinese nickname.

So here's the genealogy of the name:

Chinese farmer talk:  Bèibèi lóng 贝贝龙 ("baby dragon")

American paleontologists' talk:  Baby Louie

International scientists' talk:  Beibeilong sinensis

All in all, not a very dignified or descriptive name for a dinosaur that would have been around 26 feet long and would have weighed in at about three tons when fully grown.

[h.t. David Moser]


  1. Ryan Paltor said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

    One could even say this kind of irreverence (linguistic or otherwise) is what makes our country worth fighting for. Then again, I'm sure there are other non-essentialist views.

  2. David Marjanović said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

    Better than all the placenamesauruses that China has been churning out for 30 years.

    our country

    Country? There is no country. This is international.

  3. Bathrobe said,

    May 10, 2017 @ 5:31 pm

    The U.S. is the default country, English is the default language on the Internet.

  4. Thomas Rees said,

    May 11, 2017 @ 1:44 am

    Remember, “our country” = 我國 (我国) = China

  5. StephenL said,

    May 11, 2017 @ 4:59 am

    The middle step in that genealogy seems unnecessry?

  6. Ray said,

    May 11, 2017 @ 7:05 am

    this is the first time I ever realized the connection between "draconian" and "dragon"! (thanks)

  7. Mark Meckes said,

    May 11, 2017 @ 8:22 am

    According to the New York TImes story, the source for "Louie" was the name of the National Geographic photographer.

  8. January First-of-May said,

    May 16, 2017 @ 7:24 am

    IIRC, the adjective "draconian" as in "draconian laws" does not have any (direct) relation to dragons at all – it comes from the name of Draco (Drakon), a 7th century BC legislator from Athens famous for his harsh laws (nowhere near enough is known about him to say with anything resembling certainty whether his name has anything to do with dragons – though such an origin does appear likely).

    The adjective "draconic" used in the title of this post, however, does pretty much mean "having to do with dragons".

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