NEW ZEALAND TARANAKI

How the Chemical Elements Were Named

Many of the elements names are of Greek or Latin origin. These names usually tell us something about the element.


The interactive Periodic Table Find out as much as possible about different elemetns and their uses.

All of the man-made elements (man-made atoms) have been made as a result of the Nuclear Age. The majority of these elements were made at the University of California USA, in a machine called the Cyclotron.

1. Elements named after Countries or Places

Americium
Am
Made in 1945 at Chicago USA
Berkelium
Bk
Made in 1950 at the University of California, Berkeley, USA
Californium
Cf
Made in 1950 at the University of California, Berkeley, USA
Copper
Cu
The Romans were the biggest users of copper. Their source of copper was the island of Cyprus. Their name for the island was "Cyprium". They called the metal "Aes Cyprium" - metal of Cyprus. The name became shortened to Cyprium which then became "Cuprum" from which copper gains its modern day symbol.
Francium
Fr
Discovered in 1939 at the Curie Institute, Paris, France.
Gallium
Ga
Named after the Latin name for France - Gallia
Germanium
Ge
Discovered in 1886 by a German Chemist - Winkler.
Polonium
Po
Discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie, who was Polish.
Scandium
Sc
Discovered and mined in Scandinavia
Strontium
Sr
Named after Strontian, a small village in the Western Highlands of Scotland.

2. Elements named after Heavenly Bodies

Helium
He
From the Greek word "Helios" - the Sun. In 1868 during an eclipse of the Sun, Scientists observed a spectral line caused by an unknown element. They named the element Helium. Twenty seven years later in 1895, the element was discovered on Earth.
Neptunium
Np
Named after the planet Neptune. Find the position of the three planets Neptune, Pluto and Uranus in the Solar system. Now find the position in the Periodic Table of the three elements named after these planets...
Plutonium
Pu

Named after the planet Pluto

Uranium
U
Named after the planet Uranus. The element was discovered in 1789, shortly after the discovery of the planet.

3. Elements named from Mythology

Tantalum
Ta

Named after the Greek mythological king, Tantalus. It was discovered in 1802 and great difficulties were encountered in dissolving its oxide in acid to form salts. It proved to be a tantalising problem!

Niobium
Nb
Named after Princess Niobe, the daughter of King Tantalus. According to legend, father and daughter were always found together and were very much alike. The two elements Niobium and Tantalum are usually found together in nature and their properties are very similar. Niobium was discovered in North America in 1801 and was originally named Columbium. It was renamed in 1844 after the connections with tantalum was realised. Find the positions of both elements in the periodic table
Thorium
Th
Named after Thor, the Scandinavian God of War and Thunder. It was discovered and named in 1828. Coincidentally, thorium is used today as a nuclear fuel in nuclear weapons and reactors.
Titanium
Ti
Named after Titans, the Greek supermen. Titanium is an extremely strong metal which resists attack by acids.
Vanadium
V
Named after Vandis, the Scandinavian Goddess of Beauty. The salts of vanadium have beautiful colours.

4. Names that describe their Properties

Argon
Ar
From the Greek word "argos" which means idle or lazy. Argon is one of the laziest, least reactive elements of all.
Bromine
Br
From the Greek word "bromos" which means stench. Bromine has an unpleasant smell.
Chlorine
Cl
From the Greek word "chloros" which means green. Chlorine is a green gas.
Cobalt
Co
From the German word "kobold" which means goblin or evil spirit. Miners working in the cobalt mines sometimes died unexpectedly. For this reason the miners thought that the mines contained evil spirits. The real reason for these unexpected deaths was that cobalt ores usually contained highly poisonous arsenic. Dust from the ore probably got on their food or was breathed in, causing sudden deaths.
Hydrogen
H
From the Greek words "hydro" and "genes" which mean water and forming. When hydrogen burns in the air, it forms water.
Iodine
I
From the Greek word :iodos" which means violet. Iodine is a grey solid at room temperature. It gives off a violet coloured vapour when warmed.
Nickel
Ni
From the German word "kupfernickel" which means "Old Nick's Copper" or "False Copper". Salts of nickel resemble salts of copper. When nickel ore was first mined, the miners thought the ore was copper. They were mystified when the ore was smelted to give a silvery metal (nickel) and not red copper metal as had been expected. They called this metal "Devil's Copper" - Kupfernickel.
Oxygen
O
From the Greek words "oxy" and "genes" meaning acid forming. Most non-metals burn in oxygen to form acids eg. sulphur.
Phosphorous
P
From the Greek word "phosphorus" which means "light bearing". It was also the ancient name for the planet Venus, usually the brightest "star" in the night sky. Phosphorous glows in the dark and catches fire in the air to give a bright flame.
Radium
Ra
From the Latin word "radius" which means "ray of light". Radium was discovered in 1898 by Pierre and Marie Curie. It gives out invisible and dangerous radiation ie. it is radioactive. When concentrated, radium glows in the dark.

5. Elements named after Famous Scientists

Curium
Cm
Made in 1944 at Chicago. It was named in honour of Marie and Pierre Curie.
Einsteinium
Es
Made in 1952 at the University of California. It was named in honour of Albert Einstein.
Lawrencium
Lw
All of the man-made elements have been made as a result of the Nuclear Age. The majority of these elements were made at the University of California USA, in a machine called the Cyclotron. The Cyclotron was invented by Professor Ernest Lawrence. Lawrencium was made at the University of California in 1961 and named in his honour.
Mendelevium
Md
Made in 1955 at the University of California. It was named after a world famous Russian Chemist Dimitri Mendeleef.

 


FIND OUT MORE:-

  1. Why was Mendeleef so famous in the world of Chemistry? (Hint: what is the Periodic Table?)
  2. Why were the Curies so famous in the world of science?
  3. The interactive Periodic Table Find out as much as possible about different elemetns and their uses.
  4. What was Sir Humphry Davy famous for?

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