Why are we doing this?
Primarily, this project has been developed as a means to interest and engage K-12 Students in the Earth Sciences by providing a fun, out of the ordinary exercise that will, we hope, require them to learn a little about the dinosaurs they are developing names for.
Can classes other than science classes suggest names?
Absaluki! Certainly, there are a few obvious possibilities beyond the sciences.
Although small by dinosaurian standards, Protoceratops have had an outsized role in human history because observations of the fossils of these dinosaurs by ancient nomads are probably the basis of legends of Griffins, which are known from numerous cultures throughout the ancient world. Also, SIU is located in a region of southern Illinois informally referred to as “Little Egypt”, which is why we chose the Saluki as our mascot and probably why SIU students chose “Nanu” as the name for our original, adult Protoceratops. So there are certainly ties to classes exploring historical topics.
The fossils which Nanu and the hatchlings were created from were originally found in Western Mongolia, so there are geographic possibilities.
In the original competition to select a name for Nanu, our adult (mother) dinosaur, some students proposed names from literature that they felt reflected her “character”, and there are works of literature that focus on naming and finding names. Both are excellent ways to approach this project that might be relevant for non-science faculty.
There are probably other ways to approach this as well. Teachers are free to be creative and to find ways to use this activity to serve whatever purposes they find useful in their own classrooms.
Are these REAL dinosaurs?
Yes and no. Actual dinosaur bones are at least 65 million of years old, and they are usually both too fragile and too precious for continuous display. So it is normal practice in museums and other places that display dinosaur bones to the public, to make casts of the original bones and it is usually the casts that are put on display. But that said, these are not mere models that are “like” the original bones. These are very high quality scientific reproductions, made from the original bones and which faithfully capture every detail of the original fossils. So Nanu and the hatchlings are real in the sense that they accurately reflect what the bones of the original dinosaurs were like.
Don’t the dinosaurs already have names? Aren’t they Protoceratops?
Again, yes, and no. The dinosaurs in our collection are examples of Protoceratops Andrewsii. Their species is well known and abundantly described in the literature. There is a wealth of information available about them, including details of their form and behavior. So no, we are not trying to name a new species.
But there is a recent trend to give some particularly significant dinosaur fossils unique individual names. The Field Museum has a T-Rex named Sue; the Burpee Museum also has a teenage T-Rex called Jane. Nanu and her “offspring” are significant too! (at least to us), and they provide an opportunity to both inform and engage students – which is our primary goal. So the names we are looking for are not scientific names, they are common names, or nick-names if you prefer, but they will be the names we use for these individuals from this point on.
Will any priority be given to names from any class level or age group?
No. Students of any age or class level can suggest names for the hatchlings. That will not be a factor in selecting the finalists and we will not share information about where entries came from when submitting the finalists to a vote by the SIUC student body.
Do you have a preference for any theme for the names for the hatchlings?
With apologies to T.S. Elliot, the naming of dinosaurs is a difficult matter, especially when you consider that our hatchlings need three different names. But the short answer to this question is, No. We would prefer to avoid clichéd choices like “Larry, Mo and Curly”, or “Huey, Dewey and Louie”, and we will cull inappropriate submissions that would reflect poorly on SIUC or the Department of Geology, should any be submitted. But beyond that, we encourage faculty and students to be creative. Since there are three hatchlings to be named, we have a slight preference for sets of names that share some unifying aspect, but we will not exclude entries that have three completely unrelated unique names.
We have also provided some background on How Nanu Got Her Name. The effort to name the new hatchlings is separate from that process, but that information may provide some insight into the preferences of the SIU student body, who will be the ones that vote on the submissions in this competition.
What genders are the three hatchlings?
It’s not possible to determine the gender of the hatchlings from their skeletons alone, so the answer to this question is “we don’t know”. So names reflecting any combination of genders are all equally welcome.
Must entries include suggestions for all three hatchlings?
Yes. Entries that include only one or two names will not be considered.
Will you split up entries?
No. We will not pick and choose individual names from different entries. As noted above, valid entries must include names for all three hatchlings and those will be voted on as a block. The winning entry will choose names for all three hatchlings.
If you have other questions about this competition or the dinosaurs, feel free to contact the organizers, Dr. Harvey Henson of SIU’s STEM Education Research Center, or Dr. Ken Anderson of SIU’s Department of Geology.