“Gendering animals based on appearance is very common, however it is only really acceptable to assign a gender to currently living animals, and gendering things like dinosaurs – such as Stan – is unnecessary… In saying that, pointlessly gendering humans nowadays is just as ridiculous and there is no need for it.
Nothing needs pronouns given to them. We should accept this – with old fossils and humans.”
Young person from the Proud Trust, Age 14 (he/him)
Manchester Museum’s T. rex cast is named after Stan Sacrison who was responsible for the initial discovery of bone fragments in South Dakota. Although naming specimens has proved to be a good way to make a human connection with museum objects, especially for young children, the naming of ‘Stan’ only really tells us about the person who first discovered it rather than anything about the biology of the dinosaur.
Palaeontology is about telling stories about what happened in the past, based on the (often very limited) evidence available. Dinosaur palaeontology in particular relies on a very small number of fossils that have been discovered as it is really unusual for dinosaurs to be preserved. Palaeontologists make their best guess about what they looked like, how they moved and what they ate based on the evidence available, so when more evidence is discovered, new more reliable stories can be told.
The suggested sexual dimorphism (two size groupings) of T. rex was based on 25 individuals, a really tiny number of specimens. This would not be a big enough sample size to make reliable conclusions in most other groups of fossils. So the identification of one size grouping as male and the other female was a best guess based on the available evidence at the time.
Another famous T. rex skeleton SUE who now resides in the Field Museum, Chicago uses gender-neutral pronouns. Initially gendered as female and named after discoverer Sue Hendrickson, the academic debate concerning sexual dimorphism has brought SUE’s sex into question. Further, the museum’s thinking that it is ‘archaic to try to apply a gender to a skeleton which has no expression of gender dimorphism’ has resulted in the adoption of they/them pronouns (and SUE is quick to defend their use of they/them pronouns on their Twitter account).