Richard Hinckley Allen (1838, Buffalo, New York – 1908, Northampton, Massachusetts) was a gifted polymath and amateur naturalist; his wide range of interests caused his friends to nickname him "the walking encyclopedia." His youthful ambition to pursue astronomy was thwarted by poor eyesight, and he became a moderately successful businessman instead. He continued in scientific pursuits as a hobby for the rest of his life.
First published in 1899 as Star-Names and Their Meanings, this work collected the origins of the names of stars and constellations from a panoply of sources, some primary but most secondary; also telling briefly the various myths and folklore connected with stars in the Greco-Roman tradition; as well as in the Arabic, Babylonian, Indian and Chinese traditions, for which, however, some modern criticism having taken it to task, claiming it to be largely superseded.
The book also provides some cursory details about astronomy as the knowledge level of the end of the 19th century. Similarly, astrology and its history are dealt with briefly in the introduction, and some other basic astrological references are scattered throughout the book, although downplayed.
The book has been criticized by Paul Kunitzsch and more recently by Gary D. Thompson for using obsolete sources, and thereby being unreliable on star names and their derivation. Thompson maintains that the discussion on star names is especially unreliable as regards to Arabic star names, and otherwise also to Mesopotamian, and Egyptian constellations and star names.
There is no direct modern equivalent, although Ian Ridpath deals with traditional Greek and Roman constellation mythology, while Short Guide to Modern Star Names by Paul Kunitzsch and Tim Smart (Otto Harrassowitz, 1986) is an authoritative source on the origin of star names.
- Richard Hinckley Allen: Star Names — Their Lore and Meaning. A brief on-line biography can be found here. Another summary here.
- Richard Hinckley Allen, Star-Names and Their Meanings (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1899) Internet Archive
- Paul Kunitzsch, (1979):"A Note on Star Names, especially Arabic, and their Literature", Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 20, pp. 478-480.
- Richard Allen's Star-Names: Their Lore and Meaning by Gary D. Thompson
- Ian Ridpath, (1988): Star Tales, Cambridge, Lutterworth Press, p. 156.
- Reprinted as A Dictionary of Modern Star Names, by Sky Publishing in 2006.