Naming of 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]

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


Hydro­gen1H He­lium2He
2 Lith­ium3Li Beryl­lium4Be Boron5B Carbon6C Nitro­gen7N Oxy­gen8O Fluor­ine9F Neon10Ne
3 So­dium11Na Magne­sium12Mg Alumin­ium13Al Sili­con14Si Phos­phorus15P Sulfur16S Chlor­ine17Cl Argon18Ar
4 Potas­sium19K Cal­cium20Ca Scan­dium21Sc Tita­nium22Ti Vana­dium23V Chrom­ium24Cr Manga­nese25Mn Iron26Fe Cobalt27Co Nickel28Ni Copper29Cu Zinc30Zn Gallium31Ga Germa­nium32Ge Arsenic33As Sele­nium34Se Bromine35Br Kryp­ton36Kr
5 Rubid­ium37Rb Stront­ium38Sr Yttrium39Y Zirco­nium40Zr Nio­bium41Nb Molyb­denum42Mo Tech­netium43Tc Ruthe­nium44Ru Rho­dium45Rh Pallad­ium46Pd Silver47Ag Cad­mium48Cd Indium49In Tin50Sn Anti­mony51Sb Tellur­ium52Te Iodine53 I  Xenon54Xe
6 Cae­sium55Cs Ba­rium56Ba Lan­thanum57La 1 asterisk Haf­nium72Hf Tanta­lum73Ta Tung­sten74W Rhe­nium75Re Os­mium76Os Iridium77Ir Plat­inum78Pt Gold79Au Mer­cury80Hg Thallium81Tl Lead82Pb Bis­muth83Bi Polo­nium84Po Asta­tine85At Radon86Rn
7 Fran­cium87Fr Ra­dium88Ra Actin­ium89Ac 1 asterisk Ruther­fordium104Rf Dub­nium105Db Sea­borgium106Sg Bohr­ium107Bh Has­sium108Hs Meit­nerium109Mt Darm­stadtium110Ds Roent­genium111Rg Coper­nicium112Cn Nihon­ium113Nh Flerov­ium114Fl Moscov­ium115Mc Liver­morium116Lv Tenness­ine117Ts Oga­nesson118Og
1 asterisk Cerium58Ce Praseo­dymium59Pr Neo­dymium60Nd Prome­thium61Pm Sama­rium62Sm Europ­ium63Eu Gadolin­ium64Gd Ter­bium65Tb Dyspro­sium66Dy Hol­mium67Ho Erbium68Er Thulium69Tm Ytter­bium70Yb Lute­tium71Lu  
1 asterisk Thor­ium90Th Protac­tinium91Pa Ura­nium92U Neptu­nium93Np Pluto­nium94Pu Ameri­cium95Am Curium96Cm Berkel­ium97Bk Califor­nium98Cf Einstei­nium99Es Fer­mium100Fm Mende­levium101Md Nobel­ium102No Lawren­cium103Lr  

As shown by the table above, as of March 2014, there are 118 known elements.[1]


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 commonly named after people. However, very few are named after their discoverers, and very few are named after living people. The element seaborgium was named after Glenn Seaborg, who was alive at the time[2], as is oganesson, named after Yuri Oganessian (still alive at present). It has also been suggested that Lecoq de Boisbaudran named the element gallium after himself (Boisbaudran's first name means "rooster" and the Latin word "gallus" also means "rooster").[3] Most of the human namesakes of the transfermium elements are also recipients of the Nobel Prize. Such elements include lawrencium, rutherfordium, seaborgium, bohrium, and roentgenium, but not mendelevium, nobelium, or copernicium.[4][5] Other elements that are named after people include fermium, einsteinium, curium, and gadolinium.[6][7] Additionally, samarium is named after a mineral, which is in turn named after Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets.[8]

Places on earth[edit]

Some chemical elements are named after places on the planet earth. Five are named after currently existing countries – polonium (named after Poland[9]), francium and gallium (named after France[10]), nihonium (named after Japan) and germanium (named after Germany).[11] Only gallium and germanium are stable and occur in more than trace amounts on Earth. Additionally, americium is named after the Americas.[12] Other elements are named after modern states or cities, including berkelium, californium and tennessine named respectively after an American city and the states of California and Tennessee where they were discovered,[13] and dubnium and moscovium, similarly named after Dubna, Russia[14] and Moscow.

Several places in Scandinavia have elements named after them. Yttrium, terbium, erbium, and ytterbium are all named after the Swedish village of Ytterby[15] and holmium after the Swedish capital Stockholm.[15] Scandium is derived from the Latin word for Scandinavia and thulium from the Greek word for the same region.[15][16]

A number of elements are named after the Latin words for various places. The element ruthenium is named for the region including Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.[17] Lutetium is named after Lutetia, the Latin name for Paris and hafnium is named for Hafnia, the Latin name for Copenhagen.[18][19] Holmium is named after Holmia, which is Latin for Stockholm.[20] Copper's name comes from an Old English word for the Latin name for Cyprus.[21]

The names of both magnesium and manganese derive from the Greek region of Magnesia.[22]

Astronomical objects[edit]

A few elements are named after astronomical places, including moons, dwarf planets, and planets. Uranium, neptunium, plutonium and cerium were all named after the planets Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Ceres respectively (although Pluto and Ceres are now considered dwarf planets).[23][24][25][26][27] The name for palladium comes from an asteroid. The element selenium derives from the Greek word for the Moon (Σελήνη, Selene). Helium is named after the Greek word for the Sun (Ἢλιος, Helios). This is because the first evidence for helium was in spectroscopy lines from the Sun that, at the time, could not be explained by any other known element.[28]


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[29] 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 Z, for example "element 119" (instead of "ununennium"), with the symbol of (119) or even simply 119.[30]

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.[31]

Chemical symbol[edit]

Once an element has been named, a one-, two-, or three-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, sometimes the symbol and name do not match up as the symbol is based on non-English words, such as "Pb" for lead (plumbum in Latin) or "W" for tungsten (Wolfram in German).

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.[32]

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.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Kean, 129
  3. ^ Kean, 55
  4. ^ Gray, 230-231
  5. ^ Kean, 273
  6. ^ Gray, 220-229
  7. ^ Emsley, 188
  8. ^ Emsley, 464
  9. ^ Emsley, 412
  10. ^ Emsley, 185
  11. ^ Emsley, 197
  12. ^ Gray, 85
  13. ^ Kean, 119
  14. ^ Emsley, 157
  15. ^ a b c Kean, 62
  16. ^ Emsley, 468
  17. ^ Emsley, 458
  18. ^ Emsley, 299
  19. ^ Emsley, 210
  20. ^ Emsley, 224
  21. ^ Emsley, 145
  22. ^ Emsley, 310
  23. ^ Emsley, 405
  24. ^ Emsley, 345
  25. ^ Emsley, 594
  26. ^ Emsley, 120
  27. ^ Emsley, 475
  28. ^ Gray, Theodore. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. 
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ Haire, Richard G. (2006). "Transactinides and the future elements". In Morss; Edelstein, Norman M.; Fuger, Jean. The Chemistry of the Actinide and Transactinide Elements (3rd ed.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media. ISBN 1-4020-3555-1. 
  31. ^ "Naming of new elements(IUPAC Recommendations 2002)". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 74. doi:10.1351/pac200274050787. 
  32. ^ 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