Star Names

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Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning is an 1899 book by Richard Hinckley Allen that discusses the names of stars, constellations, and their histories.

Background and authorship[edit]

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.[1]


First published in 1899 as Star-Names and Their Meanings,[2] 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and Chinese traditions, for which, however, some modern criticism having taken it to task, claiming it to be largely superseded.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 at 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.


Frederik Pohl in 1965 called Star Names "a fine book (but hardly 'hammock reading')".[3] It was criticized by Paul Kunitzsch[4] and 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.[5] The book is mostly accurate in its explanations of Greek and Latin star names, although it contains minor historical errors and overestimates the age of some Greek temples.[6]

Further reading[edit]

There is no direct modern equivalent, although Ian Ridpath deals with traditional Greek and Roman constellation mythology,[7] while Short Guide to Modern Star Names by Paul Kunitzsch and Tim Smart (Otto Harrassowitz, 1986)[8] is an authoritative source on the origin of star names.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allen, Richard Hinckley (1963) [1899]. Star Names – Their lore and meaning (reprint ed.). reprint: Dover Books / original: G.E. Stecher – via Originally published as Star-Names and Their Meanings.
    A brief on-line biography: R.H. Allen biography (PDF). (Report).
  2. ^ Richard Hinckley Allen, Star-Names and Their Meanings (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1899) Internet Archive
  3. ^ Budrys, Algis; Pohl, Frederik (April 1965). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 137–145.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Richard Allen's Star-Names: Their Lore and Meaning Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine by Gary D. Thompson Archived 2013-08-30 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Richard Hinckley Allen • Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning". Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  7. ^ Ian Ridpath (2018): Star Tales, Cambridge, Lutterworth Press, 2nd edition, pp. 224.
  8. ^ Reprinted as A Dictionary of Modern Star Names, by Sky Publishing in 2006.

External links[edit]