What's in a fossil name?

 What's your name?

Mine is Liam Herringshaw.  Liam is the Irish pet version of William, which itself derives from the German, Willhelm, meaning determined protector, or something like that.

Herringshaw is a bit odder, since a shaw is a small wood, and herrings don't normally live there. The name comes from Lincolnshire/Humberside, so perhaps there were coastal folk back then who both fished and forested.





But that's just my personal name.  When it comes to naming biological things - even me - properly, you have to use taxonomy.  Binomial Linnean taxonomy, to be precise, in which every organism is given a species and genus name in Latin.

As such, I may think of myself as Liam Herringshaw, but I am really just an example of Homo sapiens, the 'thinking same'.

This weekend, I and my same-thinking colleagues from the Palaeontological Association are at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.  We are running an event called 'What's In A Name?' in which we investigate how fossils get their names.  You've heard of dinosaurs, ammonites and trilobites.  You might even have heard of Gryphaea, Stegosaurus, or Palaeospondylus gunni.

But what do these names really mean?  What do they tell us about the creatures, or the people who discovered them?

The festival website might state unenticingly that our show will allow you to "examine the fossil specimens and name labels", but don't let that put you off.  We ran it last year and it was great fun, and for 2013, we've put together a whole new kettle of finely named fish (and other fossils).

If you come along to our stand, you'll be able to admire and handle all sorts of specimens, suggest names for what you might have called them if you'd found them, and then find out what they're really called, and why.

If you want to see a world in a grain of sand, we also have a microscope to show off tiny fossils.  All of these miniature delights have splendid names, some of them much more of a mouthful than the creatures themselves.

And perhaps best of all, one of our team, James, who is an amazing artist, has produced some beautiful drawings of fossil body parts and their scientific names.  Using these mix-and-match images, you'll be able to create your own fantastical fossil creatures and find out what you might call them.

It's going to be a great weekend in the big tent, though I can't promise I'll be present all the time.  This is because I also have my own naming challenge whilst I'm here in Lyme Regis, as I'll be trying to find out why a rock just off the coast here is (or was) called Newfoundland.

If you can help me out on that front, I shall be very grateful.  However, do feel free just come along and call us names.  As long as they're palaeontological, we won't mind in the slightest.


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