Naming of chemical elements

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Chemical elements may be named from various sources: sometimes based on the person who discovered it, or the place it was discovered. Some have Latin or Greek roots deriving from something related to the element, for example some use to which it may have been put.

Known elements[edit]

All 118 discovered elements are confirmed and have a formal name and symbol, as decided by IUPAC. The last four names and symbols were added on November 28, 2016.[1][2] Incidentally, at this moment there are no unconfirmed discoveries and all seven periods (rows) of the periodic table are completed.

Group 1 2   3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Hydrogen &
alkali metals
Alkaline earth metals Pnicto­gens Chal­co­gens Halo­gens Noble


Hydro­gen1H1.008 He­lium2He4.0026
2 Lith­ium3Li6.94 Beryl­lium4Be9.0122 Boron5B10.81 Carbon6C12.011 Nitro­gen7N14.007 Oxy­gen8O15.999 Fluor­ine9F18.998 Neon10Ne20.180
3 So­dium11Na22.990 Magne­sium12Mg24.305 Alumin­ium13Al26.982 Sili­con14Si28.085 Phos­phorus15P30.974 Sulfur16S32.06 Chlor­ine17Cl35.45 Argon18Ar39.95
4 Potas­sium19K39.098 Cal­cium20Ca40.078 Scan­dium21Sc44.956 Tita­nium22Ti47.867 Vana­dium23V50.942 Chrom­ium24Cr51.996 Manga­nese25Mn54.938 Iron26Fe55.845 Cobalt27Co58.933 Nickel28Ni58.693 Copper29Cu63.546 Zinc30Zn65.38 Gallium31Ga69.723 Germa­nium32Ge72.630 Arsenic33As74.922 Sele­nium34Se78.971 Bromine35Br79.904 Kryp­ton36Kr83.798
5 Rubid­ium37Rb85.468 Stront­ium38Sr87.62 Yttrium39Y88.906 Zirco­nium40Zr91.224 Nio­bium41Nb92.906 Molyb­denum42Mo95.95 Tech­netium43Tc​[97] Ruthe­nium44Ru101.07 Rho­dium45Rh102.91 Pallad­ium46Pd106.42 Silver47Ag107.87 Cad­mium48Cd112.41 Indium49In114.82 Tin50Sn118.71 Anti­mony51Sb121.76 Tellur­ium52Te127.60 Iodine53I126.90 Xenon54Xe131.29
6 Cae­sium55Cs132.91 Ba­rium56Ba137.33 1 asterisk Lute­tium71Lu174.97 Haf­nium72Hf178.49 Tanta­lum73Ta180.95 Tung­sten74W183.84 Rhe­nium75Re186.21 Os­mium76Os190.23 Iridium77Ir192.22 Plat­inum78Pt195.08 Gold79Au196.97 Mer­cury80Hg200.59 Thallium81Tl204.38 Lead82Pb207.2 Bis­muth83Bi208.98 Polo­nium84Po​[209] Asta­tine85At​[210] Radon86Rn​[222]
7 Fran­cium87Fr​[223] Ra­dium88Ra​[226] 1 asterisk Lawren­cium103Lr​[266] Ruther­fordium104Rf​[267] Dub­nium105Db​[268] Sea­borgium106Sg​[269] Bohr­ium107Bh​[270] Has­sium108Hs​[269] Meit­nerium109Mt​[278] Darm­stadtium110Ds​[281] Roent­genium111Rg​[282] Coper­nicium112Cn​[285] Nihon­ium113Nh​[286] Flerov­ium114Fl​[289] Moscov­ium115Mc​[290] Liver­morium116Lv​[293] Tenness­ine117Ts​[294] Oga­nesson118Og​[294]
1 asterisk Lan­thanum57La138.91 Cerium58Ce140.12 Praseo­dymium59Pr140.91 Neo­dymium60Nd144.24 Prome­thium61Pm​[145] Sama­rium62Sm150.36 Europ­ium63Eu151.96 Gadolin­ium64Gd157.25 Ter­bium65Tb158.93 Dyspro­sium66Dy162.50 Hol­mium67Ho164.93 Erbium68Er167.26 Thulium69Tm168.93 Ytter­bium70Yb173.05  
1 asterisk Actin­ium89Ac​[227] Thor­ium90Th232.04 Protac­tinium91Pa231.04 Ura­nium92U238.03 Neptu­nium93Np​[237] Pluto­nium94Pu​[244] Ameri­cium95Am​[243] Curium96Cm​[247] Berkel­ium97Bk​[247] Califor­nium98Cf​[251] Einstei­nium99Es​[252] Fer­mium100Fm​[257] Mende­levium101Md​[258] Nobel­ium102No​[259]


Element names can refer to:

  • a mythological concept or character (including an astronomical object),
  • a mineral or similar substance,
  • a place, or geographical region,
  • a property of the element, or
  • a scientist.


Chemical elements are sometimes named after people, especially the synthetic elements discovered (created) after ca. 1940. However, very few are named after their discoverers, and even fewer are named after living people. The element seaborgium is named after Glenn Seaborg, who was alive at the time;[5] and oganesson is named after Yuri Oganessian (still living as of December 2019).

Many of the transuranic elements are named after recipients of the Nobel Prize, including:

Transuranic elements named in honour of scientists who did not receive the prize include:[6][7]

The transuranic element americium is indirectly named (via the continents The Americas[8]) after Amerigo Vespucci[9]

The transuranic element flerovium was named for the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, which in turn was named for Georgy Flyorov; the IUPAC specified that the element was named after the Laboratory, not Flyorov.[10] However, Yuri Oganessian, who led the team at the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions that discovered this element, said that the intention of the naming was to honour Flyorov.[11]

The element samarium is named after Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets,[12] and gadolinium is indirectly named (via the mineral gadolinite) after Johan Gadolin.[13][14]

Lecoq de Boisbaudran, who named the element gallium after his native land of France (from Latin Gallia meaning Gaul) denied that the element's naming was for a pun on his own name ("le coq" means "the rooster" in French, as does "gallus" in Latin).[15][16]

Places on earth[edit]

Some chemical elements are named after places on the planet earth.

Five are named after currently existing countries:

Of these, only gallium and germanium are stable and occur in more than trace amounts on Earth.

Americium is named after the Americas,[20][21][22] and europium after Europe.[23]

Other elements are named after modern states or cities, including berkelium, californium and tennessine named respectively after the American city of Berkeley and the states of California and Tennessee where they were discovered;[24] and dubnium and moscovium, similarly named after Russia's Dubna[25] and Moscow.

Several places in Scandinavia have elements named after them:

A number of other elements are named after classical words for various places.

Astronomical objects[edit]

The naming of elements from astronomical objects stems from the ancient association of metals with the various planets and their gods, as follows: mercury with Mercury; copper with Venus; iron with Mars (named for the Roman god of war); tin with Jupiter (named for the Roman king of the gods); and lead with Saturn (named for the ancient, slow god who was the father of Jupiter). The Sun and the Moon were associated with gold and silver, respectively.

A few other elements are directly named for astronomical bodies, including planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. Uranium, neptunium, plutonium, cerium, and palladium were named after Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Ceres, and Pallas, respectively.[34][35][36][37][38] The name selenium comes from the Greek word for the Moon (Σελήνη, Selene). Similarly, the name helium is derived from the Greek word for the Sun (Ἢλιος, Helios), as the first evidence for helium came in the form of distinctive emission lines from the Sun that were not explainable by any of the known elements in the 1870s.[39] Tellurium is named after the Latin word tellus, meaning "earth".


Many elements are named after the minerals in which they are found, e.g. calcium after Latin calx (lime), silicon is named after Latin silex (sand), sodium after soda and potassium after potash.[citation needed]

Temporary names[edit]

In 1979, IUPAC published recommendations for their systematic element names to be used for yet unnamed or undiscovered elements[40] as a placeholder, until the discovery of the element is confirmed and a permanent name is decided on. The recommendations are mostly ignored among scientists, who simply call these elements by their atomic number, for example "element 119" (instead of "ununennium"), with the symbol of (119) or even simply 119.[41]

Since 2002, the IUPAC Inorganic Chemistry Division has been the official body responsible with assigning official names to new elements, with the IUPAC Council making the final decision.[42]

Chemical symbol[edit]

Once an element has been named, a one-, or two-letter symbol must be ascribed to it so it can be easily referred to in such contexts as the periodic table. The first letter is always capitalised. While the symbol is often a contraction of the element's name, it may sometimes not match the element's name when the symbol is based on non-English words; examples include "Pb" for lead (from plumbum in Latin) or "W" for tungsten (from Wolfram in German). Elements which have only temporary systematic names are given temporary three-letter symbols (e.g. Uue for ununennium, the undiscovered element 119).

Naming controversies[edit]

The naming of the synthetic elements dubnium and seaborgium generated a significant amount of controversy, referred to as the Transfermium Wars. The Americans wished to name element 105 hahnium, while the Russians preferred the name dubnium. The Americans also wished to name element 106 seaborgium. This naming dispute ran from the 1970s (when the elements were discovered) to the 1990s, when the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) created a tentative list of the element names for elements 104 to 109. The Americans, however, refused to agree with these names because seaborgium was not in the list. Thus, IUPAC reconsidered, and in 1996 named element 105 dubnium and element 106 seaborgium.[43]

Alternative forms of an element, names indicating molecular structure, and names of compounds[edit]

When a pure element, comprising only one type of atom, nevertheless exists in multiple forms (allotropes) with different structure and properties, they are generally given different names; for example graphite and diamond are both forms of the element carbon. Even for elements such as nitrogen having only one stable allotrope, a name such as dinitrogen may be used to indicate its molecular structure N2 as well as its elemental composition. The naming of chemical compounds comprising more than one element is a complex subject, discussed at length in the article on chemical nomenclature.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IUPAC announces the names of the elements 113, 115, 117, and 118". IUPAC. 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2018-09-21.
  2. ^ Öhrström, Lars; Reedijk, Jan (2016-12-28). "Names and symbols of the elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 (IUPAC Recommendations 2016)". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 88 (12): 1225–1229. doi:10.1515/pac-2016-0501. eISSN 1365-3075. hdl:1887/47427. ISSN 0033-4545. S2CID 99429711.
  3. ^ Meija, Juris; et al. (2016). "Atomic weights of the elements 2013 (IUPAC Technical Report)". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 88 (3): 265–91. doi:10.1515/pac-2015-0305.
  4. ^ Meija, Juris; et al. (2016). "Atomic weights of the elements 2013 (IUPAC Technical Report)". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 88 (3). Table 2, 3 combined; uncertainty removed. doi:10.1515/pac-2015-0305.
  5. ^ Kean, 129
  6. ^ Gray, 230-231
  7. ^ Kean, 273
  8. ^
  9. ^ Seaborg, Glenn T. (1946). "The Transuranium Elements". Science. 104 (2704): 379–386. Bibcode:1946Sci...104..379S. doi:10.1126/science.104.2704.379. JSTOR 1675046. PMID 17842184.
  10. ^ "Element 114 is Named Flerovium and Element 116 is Named Livermorium" (Press release). IUPAC. 30 May 2012.
  11. ^ Oganessian, Yu. Ts. (2015-10-10). "Гамбургский счет" [Hamburg reckoning] (Interview) (in Russian). Interviewed by Orlova, O. Public Television of Russia. Retrieved 2020-01-18.
  12. ^ Emsley, 464
  13. ^ Gray, 220-229
  14. ^ Emsley, 188
  15. ^ Kean, 55
  16. ^ Weeks, Mary Elvira (1932). "The discovery of the elements. XIII. Some elements predicted by Mendeleeff". Journal of Chemical Education. 9 (9): 1605–1619. Bibcode:1932JChEd...9.1605W. doi:10.1021/ed009p1605.
  17. ^ Emsley, 412
  18. ^ Emsley, 185
  19. ^ Emsley, 197
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Gray, 85
  24. ^ Kean, 119
  25. ^ Emsley, 157
  26. ^ a b c Kean, 62
  27. ^ Emsley, 299
  28. ^ Emsley, 210
  29. ^ Emsley, 224
  30. ^ Emsley, 468
  31. ^ Emsley, 458
  32. ^ Emsley, 145
  33. ^ Emsley, 310
  34. ^ Emsley, 405
  35. ^ Emsley, 345
  36. ^ Emsley, 594
  37. ^ Emsley, 120
  38. ^ Emsley, 475
  39. ^ Gray, Theodore. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.
  40. ^ Chatt, J. (1979). "Recommendations for the naming of elements of atomic numbers greater than 100". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 51 (2): 381–384. doi:10.1351/pac197951020381.
  41. ^ Haire, Richard G. (2006). "Transactinides and the future elements". In Morss; Edelstein, Norman M.; Fuger, Jean (eds.). The Chemistry of the Actinide and Transactinide Elements (3rd ed.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media. ISBN 1-4020-3555-1.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  42. ^ Koppenol, W. H. (2002). "Naming of new elements(IUPAC Recommendations 2002)" (PDF). Pure and Applied Chemistry. 74 (5): 787–791. doi:10.1351/pac200274050787. S2CID 95859397.
  43. ^ Kean, 127-128


  • Theodore Gray (2009), The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
  • Sam Kean (2011), The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of the Elements, Back Bay Books/Little Brown and Company
  • John Emsley (2011), Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements — New Edition, Oxford University Press