What is the Latin name of elements

On the etymology of the names of the chemical elements


Reinhard Fössmeier, AIS San-Marino
Translated from Esperanto.
As the reader will quickly discover, I am neither a chemist nor a linguist. Nevertheless, I am putting together some facts here about the etymology of the names of the chemical elements, for amateurs like me who just want to get a taste of the things. Since these details, however superficial they remain, should still be correct, I ask for comments, criticism and additions (to). Thanks.

If you compare the names, you will find that many of them are related to one another because they come from the same time or by the same researchers. One example is the series of elements that Bunsen and Kirchhoff discovered by analyzing their spectrum and then named after the Greek name of an important spectral color. Another row was named after countries or continents; more recently the names of famous natural scientists have been used.


1 H hydrogen
One of the two components of water; Greco-Latin hydrogenium, literally "water generator".
2 He helium
after the Greek sun god Helios. Helium was first detected on the sun by analyzing the solar spectrum, namely by Jansen during the solar eclipse of 1868. Frankland identified it as an element and named it. Helium makes up 15% of the sun's atoms.
3 Li lithium
from the Greek "lithos" = stone.
4 Be beryllium
after the mineral beryl (Be3Al2Si6O18), which contains beryllium.
5 B boron
about the Latin, from the Arabic "buraq" = saltpeter, that in "Borax", Na2B.4O7 . 10 H.2Oh, sounds like it. [KHU]
6 C carbon (lat. carbo)
Main component of coal, which has long been known as a mineral.
7 N nitrogen (lat. nitrogenium)
The (Greek-) Latin name literally means "saltpetre producer". If the breathable oxygen is withdrawn from the earthly atmosphere, nitrogen remains for the most part, which is characterized as "suffocating".
8 O oxygen (lat. oxygenium)
The (Greek-) Latin oxygenium literally means "acid generator". Chemistry once assumed that oxygen was the characteristic element of acids, and therefore gave it this name. Only later did it become apparent (using the example of hydrochloric acid as an example) that there are acids without oxygen and that hydrogen rather characterizes the acids.
9 F fluorine
from Latin fluere = flow because the fluorite (CaF2) was used in blast furnaces as a flux for the slag.
10 ne neon
from the Greek to neon = "the new".
11 Na sodium
from Hebrew nice = Soda (sodium carbonate). The English language uses the Latin expression "sodium".
12 mg magnesium
according to the region magnesia (now Magnisia) in Greece.
13 Al aluminum
after the Latin alum = Alum; Alum (in the strictest sense) is potassium aluminum sulfate.
14 Si silicon
from the Latin silex = Pebbles. Pebbles are mostly made of quartz (SiO2) [KHU]. Silicones are compounds with silicon. In contrast, the English language names the element silicon and the silicones silicone (s)Which is why some, in their endeavor to make chemistry easier, also call silicon "silicon" in German.
15 P phosphorus
after the Greek phosporos, "Carrier of light" (φως / phos = light, φερειν / pherein = to carry). White phosphorus oxidizes spontaneously in the air with the emission of light.
16 S sulfur
after the Latin sulfur = Sulfur. An element that has been known for thousands of years.
17 Cl chlorine
after the Greek χλορος /chloros = yellow green. Gaseous chlorine has this color.
18 ar argon
after the Greek αργος /argos = sluggish. Like helium, argon hardly reacts with other elements.
19 K potassium
according to the Arabic Kalja = "Plant ash". (The syllable "al" in the word "alkali" is the Arabic article.) In Latin there is the name potassium (Potash, K2CO3), from Dutch (pot = Pot, as = Ash), which is still used in English for potassium.
20 Ca calcium, calcium
according to the Latin calx, -cis = "Limestone".
21 Sc Scandium
to Scandinavia. The Swedish chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson discovered this element. Presumably (I couldn't pinpoint it) he chose the name in honor of his home region. Scandium occurs in the minerals euxenite and gadolinite (cf. gadolinium), which are practically only found in Scandinavia. [KHU]
22 Ti titanium
after the titans, in Greek mythology the sons of Uranus and Gaja. In 1795 the chemist chose Klaproth this name because of the strength of the element. Already in 1791 the Briton had Gregor discovered the item and named it Menachite given; however, the discovery was forgotten.
23 V vanadium
to Vanadis, an epithet of the Germanic goddess Freya. Discovered by the Swedish chemist Sefström (1830 [KHU]), after 1801 the Mexicans del Rio found the substance, but considered it to be a variety of chromium (24).
24 Cr chrome
after the Greek chroma = Color, because of the colourfulness of its connections.
25 Mn manganese
after the Latin magnesia nigra (MnO2), one at magnesia found mineral.
26 Fe iron (lat. ferrum)
a long known metal.
27 Co cobalt
to leprechaunbecause it was believed that a goblin prevented the smelting of cobalt ore, which is similar to iron ore.
28 Ni nickel
after the Germanic nickel (= Nothing), for reasons similar to cobalt.
29 Cu copper
after the Latin Cuprum = Copper. The name is originally derived from the island of Cyprus.
30 Zn zinc
after the Latin zincum; the etymology goes back to the word "prong", as some zinc ores have a prickly shape.
31 Ga gallium
after the Latin Gallia = "Gaul" (France). The item was made by the French Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered; it was already predicted by Meldeleev.

According to Sven Silow, Lecoq could also have immortalized himself here: "le coq"(French) ="gallus"(lat.) =" the rooster ".

32 Ge germanium
to Germany (Germania). The item was made in 1885 Freiberg of Winkler discovered in the mineral argyrodite [KHU] Ag8GeS6. Mendeleev had predicted it from his periodic table, with properties that should (and indeed do) resemble those of silicon.
33 ace arsenic
maybe after the Greek arsenikon = "male", or after the Arabic "sernik" (with article: as-sernik), which denotes a certain yellowish mineral, a mixture of arsenic oxide and arsenic sulfide.
34 Se selenium
after the Greek goddess of the moon Selene. The element was first found together with tellurium (52) and got its name afterwards.
35 Br bromine
from the Greek bromos = "foul smelling, stinking". Bromine, which is only liquid up to 59 degrees, gives off toxic, foul-smelling fumes.
36 kr krypton
after the Greek cryptos = "hidden, mysterious".
37 Rb Rubidium
after the Latin rubidus = "dark red", as it was discovered (by Bunsen and Kirchhoff) on the basis of a red spectral line.
38 Sr strontium
to the Scottish city Strontian, which gave the name to the mineral strontianite [KHU].
39 Yttrium
to the Swedish city Ytterby. ([Schröter et al.] Speak of a Norwegian town. Sven Silow kindly corrected this.) Ytterby also gave the elements terbium, erbium and ytterbium the name [KHU].
40 Zr zirconium
after the mineral Zircon (Zirconium silicate), known as a gem stone.
41 Nb niobium
to Niobe, daughter of Tantalus in Greek mythology. Discovered in 1801. In nature, niobium often occurs together with tantalum (73), which was only discovered in 1820.
42 Mo molybdenum
after the Greek molybdos = "Lead".
43 Tc technetium
after "technical" (Greek η τέχνη = the art); the first artificial element. First represented by Perrier and Segrè (1937). Since the most stable isotope, Te-97, has a half-life of 2.6 million years, practically all technetium has decayed since the formation of the earth (at least after the formation of the heavy elements).
44 Ru ruthenium
according to the country Ruthenia (= Russia), because of the origin of the raw platinum in which ruthenium was discovered in the first half of the 19th century [KHU].
45 rhodium
after the Greek rhodeos = "rose-colored", or rhodon = "Rose". Rhodium salts and their aqueous solutions are often red.
46 Pd palladium
to Pallas, an epithet of Athena and the name of a planetoid.
47 Ag silver
Long known element. By the way, the only element that a country (Argentina, from lat. argentum) gave the name, and not the other way around.
48 cd cadmium, cadmium
after the zinc mineral cadmia, which often contains some cadmium. [MHU] lists both names Cadmos, the legendary founder of Thebes and brother of Europa.
49 In indium
to indigo, because of a blue spectral line. See rubidium (37).
50 Sn tin
Long known element. Symbol after the Latin stannum = Tin [KHU].
51 Sb antimony
about the Latin antimonium, from the Arabic alithmidun, a specific ore. The chemical symbol comes from the Latin synonym stibium.
52 Te tellurium
from Latin tellus = Earth. See selenium (34).
53 I iodine, iodine
from the Greek ioeides = purple. Heated iodine gives off purple fumes. When chemistry spoke more German, the symbol was mostly written "J".
54 Xe Xenon
from the Greek xenon = "foreign".
55 Cs cesium, cesium
from Latin caesius = "azure blue", as it was discovered (by Bunsen and Kirchhoff) through its blue spectral line.
56 Ba barium
from the Greek barys = "difficult", about the mineral Barite (Barite, BaSO4) [KHU].
57 La Lanthanum
from the Greek lanthanum = "hide".
58 Ce Zer, Cer
after the Roman goddess of fertility Ceres, according to Sven Silow on the detour via the planetoid Ceres (cf. the palladium and the planetoid Pallas).
59 Pr praseodymium
from the Greek praseos = "green" and didymos = "Twin", because of the color of its salts. See neodymium (60).
60 Nd neodymium
from the Greek neos = "new" and didymos = "Twin". Neodymium and praseodymium were first used in 1885 Auer von Welsbach Cut; until then they were considered to be a single element, called Didymium. Its name comes from its resemblance to lanthanum [KHU].
61 pm promethium
after the Greek demigod Prometheuswho, according to legend, brought fire to people. Promethium is an artificial element whose existence was suspected according to spectral analyzes as early as 1926; at that time the Latin names Illinois (Il) and Florentinum were suggested. Since promethium is formed when uranium decays, it was examined in detail in the US atomic bomb research in 1945; American scientists then suggested the name promethium.
62 Sm samarium
after the mineral Samarskite, in turn, after the Russian mineralogist Samarsky named.
63 Eu Europium
after the continent (and the legendary king's daughter) Europe.
64 Gd gadolinium
after the mineralogist Johan Gadolin (1760-1852, professor of chemistry at Turku University). According to other sources, the first names are "A. W.". According to the history of the Finnish Geodetic Institute, it could be Jakob Gadolin. A representation of the Laboratory for Organic Chemistry and the Chemical Department of the University of Turku, on the other hand, mention the first name Johan. (Unfortunately the WWW links are apparently out of date.)
65 Tb Terbium, 68 Er Erbium, 70 Yb Ytterbium
to the Swedish city Ytterby, as well as yttrium (39).
66 Dy Dysprosium
from the Greek dysprosodos = "unreachable". At the time of its discovery by Lecoq de Boisbaudran around 1886, it was practically inaccessible, that is to say, it could not be represented in pure form [KHU].
67 Ho Holmium
after the Latin name of Stockholm, Holmia, named by Cleve, one of the explorers (other independent explorers were the Swiss Delafontaine and Soret). Some sources state that the name honors the scientist Holmberg.
69 Tm thulium
to Thule, as the name of Scandinavia or Greenland. Interestingly, the "m" was chosen as the second letter of the chemical symbol, which belongs to the Latin ending and is completely meaningless, while the combination "Tu" is free. ("Th" is evidenced by the thorium.)
71 Lu Lutetium
to Lutetia, the Roman name of Paris. Discovered independently by the French in 1907 Urbain and the Austrian Auer von Welsbach. The name was taken from Urbain elected.
72 Hf hafnium
to Hafnia, the Latin name of the Danish city of Copenhagen, where the item was in 1923 from the Hungarians by Hevesy and the Dutchman Coster was discovered after the Dane Bohr had predicted it.
73 Ta tantalum
to Tantalos, in Greek mythology father of Niobe. Discovered in 1820. The element is often found together with niobium (41), which was discovered in 1801.

The oxide Ta2O5 is insoluble in acids, so, like the mythological Tantalus in Hades, "cannot quench his thirst".

74 W tungsten
allegedly from "wolf" and "cream" (old word for "dirt"), since tungsten slagged molten tin "like a wolf devours a sheep".
75 Re rhenium
after the river Rhine. 1925 by the German scientist couple Noddack discovered.
76 Os osmium
after the Greek osmeo = "I smell". The element always smells a bit of its oxide.
77 Ir Iridium
after the Greek irideios = "iridescent, rainbow-colored", because of the colorfulness of its connections.
78 pt platinum
from Latin platina = "small silver".
79 Au gold
long known element, Latin name aurum, related to aurora = "Dawn" (color) [KHU].
80 Hg mercury
nimble silver, similar to the Latin name hydrargyrum means "liquid silver" or "water silver".
81 tsp thallium
from the Greek thallos = "green branch", after a green spectral line.
82 Pb lead
long known element. According to the Latin plumbum = Lead [KHU].
83 Bi bismuth, bismuth
Unclear etymology. Several sources (Wahrig, Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Schröter et al.) Attribute the word to the fact that the element "mute" ("muten" = "claim mining rights"). Schröter et al. express themselves most cautiously.
84 Po Polonium
to Polonia, the Latin name of Poland. The item was created by the Polish-French scientist Skłodowska-Curie discovered.
85 at astatine
from the Greek astaton = "unstable". Astatine is an unstable element whose isotope 210 has a half-life of only 8.3 hours; the instability can therefore easily be determined if the element can be represented.
86 margon radon
from Latin radius = "Ray". Radon is the only radioactive element among the (natural) noble gases.
87 Fr Franzium, Francium
to France (lat. Francia). The element was created in 1939 by the French scientist Marguerite Perey discovered and is sometimes referred to as "actinium-K".
88 Ra radium
from Latin radius = "Ray", like radon.
89 Ac actinium
from the Greek aktinioeis = "shining, shiny". Actinium is unstable and decomposes with the generation of heat and radiation.
90 th thorium
after the Germanic god Thor.
91 Pa protactinium
so called because it breaks down into actinium (-227) (and an alpha particle) and is therefore "before actinium" in the uranium-actinium decay series.
92 U uranium, 93 Np Neptunium, 94 Pu Plutonium
after the three planets (and Greek gods) Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.The uranium was discovered in 1789 by the German scientist Klaproth named, the other two in 1940 and 1941 by American scientists. The order of the planets according to their solar distance is the same as that of the ordinal numbers of the elements; but while the orbits of Neptune and Pluto overlap on the planets, the most stable isotopes of Neptunium, Ne-237, and uranium, U-238, "cross" each other on the elements.
95 Am Americian, Americium
to America (maybe, modestly, only the USA are meant). 1944 by the American scientist Glenn Seaborg discovered.
96 cm Kurium
after the researcher couple curie / Skłodowska-Curie.
97 Bk Berkelium, 98 Cf California
to the US state of California and the university town there Berkeleywhere in 1949 the Berkelium and in 1950 the California were discovered. As with Americian (95) and Kurium (96), the scientist Seaborg had a great influence on the naming. (The town Berkeley was named after the Irish theologian, by the way George Berkeley named, which, however, has no closer relationship to chemistry.)
99 It Einsteinium,
100 fm fermium,
101 Md Mendelevium,
102 No Nobelium,
103 Lr Lawrencium,
104 Rf rutherfordium,
106 Sg Seaborgium,
107 Bh Bohrium [MHU],
109 Mt Meitnerium
according to the scientists Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834-1907), Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), Ernest Orlando Lawrence (1901-1958), Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) [MHU], Glenn Seaborg (1912-) [MHU], Niels Bohr (1885-1962) [MHU], Lise Meitner (1878-1968) [MHU].

There were also the suggestions: 104 Dubnium, 104 Kurchatovium [Schröter et al.], 105 Hahnium, 105 Joliotium, 107 Nilsbohrium.

105 Db Dubnium
after the Russian nuclear research center Dubna.
108 Hs Hassium
after the Latin name of Hesse, where this element was discovered at the GSI in Darmstadt.
For this compilation, which is certainly incomplete, I used the following sources:
  • W. Schröter, K.-H. Lautenschläger, H. Bibrack: Chemistry: Facts and laws. VEB Fachbuchverlag Leipzig, 1977.
  • Meyer's large hand dictionary
  • Microsoft Encarta '95
  • Plena Ilustrita Vortaro de Esperanto, dua eldono
  • True, German Dictionary; Mosaik-Verlag 1980.
  • Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary
I thank you for valuable tips
  • Dr. Holger Kohlmann, Geneva
  • Mr. Sven Silow, Sweden
  • Mr. Matt McLauchlin, Canada
  • Mr. Karl-Heinz Ujma [KHU]
  • Mr. Manfred Huppertz [MHU], Düsseldorf
  • Mr. Timo Kropp, Hahn-Meitner-Institut
  • H. Aleman

Author: Reinhard Fössmeier
Status: 2010-08-02