Indominus rex might sound legitimate enough as a scientific name for a new dinosaur. It seems to use the system of binomial nomenclature we remember from school. The first word is the genus of the creature; the second is the species. For example, you may remember that Tyrannosaurus is a combination of two Greek words: tyrannos, “tyrant,” and sauros, “lizard.” Rex is Latin for “king,” so T. rex is the king of the tyrant lizard genus, or just the tyrant lizard king, as most 10-year-olds can tell you.
Now what about the Indominus rex? It echoes T. rex, plus the word indomitable or abominable or some other terror-inspiring adjective. (Remember that all the dinosaurs in Jurassic World are still presumably female, per Dr. Wu’s SOP. One wonders if it wouldn’t be appropriate to name a species that will always be engineered as a female as queen and not king.) Although Jurassic World’s official website claims Indominus rex means “fierce or untamable king,” the name actually doesn’t mean much of anything.
Indominus is a compound word from the Latin noun dominus, meaning “master of the house.” It’s combined with the prefix in-, negating it. The word dominus exists in Latin only as a noun; there is no such adjective as either dominus or indominus. So Indominus rex literally translates as non-master of the house king! This is not a matter of something being lost in translation. The phrase is a complete and total failure in terms of sense and syntax, both in Latin and in translation.
What’s most bothersome is how lazy a mistake this is. While at university, my Classics department would sometimes receive requests to translate odds and ends into Latin. A student group was hosting an event that they wanted to call “Seize the Night” in Latin. Or some undergrad coed would want a Latin tattoo. We classicists, happy to dispel the notion that we are useless, would always oblige these requests. This film cost $150 million to produce, with 1425 people listed in the credits (including seven different writers!), but not one person could be bothered to pick up a phone to call any Classics department in the country, any one of which would have been happy to assist! At most it would have cost the producers a “special thanks” line in the credits.
So what should the name have been? Indomitus rex, meaning “unconquerable king,” would have been more in line with what the filmmakers had in mind. Changing one letter could have saved their project all this embarrassment. Another option would have been Invictus rex, meaning “invincible king.” Maybe the studio was concerned that this option would give moviegoers the impression that the dino was really good at rugby.
But perhaps this colossal blunder is actually a secret act of genius. Remember from the original Jurassic Park film, Dr. Wu hesitates when Dr. Grant asks him what species of newborn dinosaur he is holding in his hands. “Uhhhh…veloci-raptor.” In the JP novel, Malcolm observes that the genetic engineers making the dinosaurs barely know their names. Maybe the flawed Latin was intentionally included in JW to echo these JP themes. In fact, I can imagine Dr. Wu and some InGen execs tossing around a bunch of cool-sounding names in a board meeting. “And the last item on this meeting’s agenda: name the new hybrid dinosaur. Anyone feel like an early lunch?” In other words, the poor naming decision may be intended to show that the creators aren’t nearly as clever as they thought they were.
Another explanation is that the name’s seemingly contradictory meaning is intended by the filmmakers to show that the apparent dominance of the I. rex is an illusion; indominus basically means false master. Indominus rex may be the untamable king at first glance, but the reality of the matter is that she’s just a pretender to the throne. When the Tyrannosaurus roars in the closing moments of the film, she has reclaimed the crown.
The third and final theory quite frankly jumps the Mosasaurus. Some hard-core JP fans have noted that Indominus rex is an anagram for the English-Latin phrase “I’m uxor Dennis,” which in plain English is “I’m the wife of Dennis.” Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to secretly convey that the I. rex was not just a dinosaur, but, moreover, this movie’s arch-villain. In other words, the I. rex is JW’s version of Dennis Nedry (as opposed to Hoskins).
And if we’re willing to go this far, some argue that Dr. Wu even used some Nedry DNA to create his new asset. Nedry’s DNA, after all, Nedry’s DNA would have been available either through InGen’s biometric data collection program, or, better yet, just lying around after his ill-fated excursion to the East Dock. How much better would the film have been if Dr. Wu’s big reveal wasn’t using raptor DNA to make the I. rex, but human DNA? And then the final twist could be that the genetic material in question was taken from Nedry! InGen could have used his DNA citing some precedent of corporate ownership of genetic material, which would be sure to disgust the audience while raising all sorts of new philosophical and ethical questions (see Michael Crichton’s Next). If nothing else, it certainly would have given the movie a worthier twist and breathed new life into the JP themes of playing God and scientific overreach.