Title | Department Name | SIU

Southern Illinois University



STEM Education Research Center

College of Science


Nanu.pngIn the Spring of 2017, SIU students chose the name Nanu for SIU’s first dinosaur. We’ve included this description of the process by which Nanu got her name to provide a little background and to serve as rough guide to the thought processes that went into that choice. In coming up with names for the new hatchlings, it’s certainly not necessary to follow the same path as was taken then, in fact, we encourage creativity! And just because something didn’tmake the cut before, that doesn’t mean it won’t this time. (We have three names to pick now, not just one!) But to the extent that it might be helpful, we have included this for the benefit of those that want to get to know us a little better.

As with the current competition, the process was done in two stages. The Department of Geology surveyed SIU’s entire student body for suggestions for what we should name our dinosaur. The response from SIU’s students was overwhelming - over eight hundred possible names were submitted! To make the choice from the hundreds of suggestions, faculty from the department of geology had to cull done the list to a manageable number of finalists to put up for a vote. The department selected six names from the original suggestions, following the themes that were apparent in that list, and put the finalists up for a vote. SIU’s Students chose the name Nanu.

The names that SIU’s students suggested tended to follow a few themes and in selecting the finalists we tried to stay true to those trends. Many students clearly wanted to stay with the Egyptian and Saluki theme, so three of the finalists reflected that. Some wanted to honor specific people such as personal heroes, remarkable women from history or folks associated with SIU’s or Illinois’ past. Others thought our choice should reflect our dinosaur’s central Asian origins, or that we should choose names that reflect something about our dinosaur’s character; so we tried to respect those preferences as well.

In selecting the finalists, we found it helpful when the proposed names included some background that explained the basis or significance of the proposed name, and when we put the finalists up for a vote, we provided that information to the students as well. The original list of finalists, and some honorable mentions, are listed below. We provided this information to students at the time of the original vote and we have included it here as examples and as guidance to the thought process that went into selecting the finalists from the hundreds of possibilities that were proposed.

The (original) Finalists:

SIU dinosaur contest names

Original List of Finalists
Name Meaning


is an Egyptian name meaning “beautiful”. It reflects Southern Illinois’ roots as “Little Egypt” as well as the beauty of our campus, our region, and our Earth. Some students also noted the similarity between Protoceratops’ shield and the headdresses worn by beautiful Egyptian women.


was a Queen of ancient Egypt, wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten and possibly the mother of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (Tut’s ancestry is a bit convoluted and controversial). SIU’s first saluki mascot was called Tut (he’s buried outside the Football Stadium). According to some sources, Nefertiti’s name means “a beautiful woman has come”.


was an Egyptian princess. She is remarkable because she was not born royal, but became royalty when her grandfather, Ramesses I became Pharaoh. She is also one of very few Egyptian Princesses to marry outside of the nobility, choosing instead to marry Ramesses II’s tutor, a royal scribe.


is a Mongolian name. Our dinosaur was found in the Gobi Desert in what is now Mongolia, so this name reflects her origins in that part of the world. Loosely translated, this name means "Mother” or “Joy". Protoceratops were good parents that cared for their young and this name captures both her maternal nature and her origins.


Delyte W. Morris was SIU's longest-serving president (1948-1970). Much of what SIU is today, a nationally ranked research university, was built under his guidance. Morris Library is named in his honor. This choice honors the contributions and support of his wife, Dorothy Morris.


The name Hermia is included for its character. In Act 3 Scene 2 of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", the character Helena refers to the character Hermia in the famous quote, "...And though she be but little, she is fierce". Protoceratops were small by dinosaur standards, but stood their ground when confronted by predators like Velociraptor; so the name seems to capture something of her (and SIU’s) spunk.


Honorable mentions

In narrowing the choices to the half dozen finalists listed above, it was inevitable that other great suggestions had to be passed over. That was hard to do because there were many many suggestions that ranged from witty and clever to moving and poignant, to just plain funny. There were way too many suggestions to list them all, but a few possibilities that did not make the cut (and a few themes) stood out and deserve mention in their own right.

Cera or Sarah popped up quite a few times, drawing on the phonetics of our dinosaur’s biological name, Proto - cera - tops. Some students that suggested this name also pointed out the connection with the character in the popular animated children’s series “The Land Before Time”. In the end, that connection swayed us against this choice. Cera is that dinosaur, this is ours, and she deserved her own name not one tied to a separate character. (Besides, Cera from “The Land Before Time” is a baby Triceratops, not a Protoceratops.)

Dino McDinoface (and a few variations on that) popped up more than once, drawing on the hilarious story of efforts to have the UK’s new polar research vessel named “Boaty McBoatface”. In the end, despite the popularity of “Boaty” on the internet, the vessel was named the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Funny as they are, (for a while), the problem with names like these is that jokes get old – quickly. (If you’re still telling Yo’ Mama jokes, you should probably stop now.) Our Old Dawg is already almost 70 million years old, so we felt we didn’t need to saddle her with an old joke to boot!

Cleopatra (or Cleo) was suggested in honor of the last Queen of Egypt, and was certainly a deserving possibility, as were various other Egyptian royals and deities, but two Egyptian royal choices seemed enough. Various plays on “ Saluki” (“Sal”, “Luki”, “Suki” etc.), also showed up in the list of suggestions and caught our attention as being clever possibilities. Other possibilities drew their inspiration from Protoceratops’ role as the basis for the legend of the Griffin, or from names of popular celebrities (e.g. Beyoncé, Michelle, Carrie and others) and other notable folks. Personal heroes and loved ones, both living and lost, also figured prominently in the list of suggestions. And the list went on. It was both fun and fascinating to see the breadth of sources of inspiration that folks drew from in coming up with their suggestions. They were all good.