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Element Names

Some Idle Musings Related to the Names of the Chemical Elements

Posted: Jul 15th, 2022 - Modified: Sep 28th, 2022

What is the third ferromagnetic goblin?

Iron Cobalt and Nickel are sometimes known as the “Iron Triad” or Iron Group due to their similar properties.

What is the the origin of the word ‘iron’? It’s not entirely clear. But it may be a derivative of ancient words related to blood, strength, or supernatural power.

For the other two, the etymology is well-known. Cobalt derives its name from the Kobold of European mythology. Nickel (originally Kupfernickel, meaning goblin’s copper) similarly derives its name from a mischievous mythological mountain monster.

This is unrelated coincidence suggests that iron earns its name from a third variety of goblin, some ferocious underground spirit that plagued our ancestors. Might it still be around? Forgotten, but far from gone? What terrible ferro-goblins might still sleep secretly deep within the earth?

Planetary Elements

There are 8 elements named after celestial objects.
The seven metals of antiquity have traditionally been associated with the seven classical planets, especially Mercury, for which the planet and element share a name.

Between these two factors, there is at least one element associated with each of the major objects in our solar system:

Planet Namesake for Element Classical Association
The Sun Helium Gold
Mercury Mercury  
Venus   Copper
Earth Tellurium  
The Moon Selenium Silver
Mars   Iron
Ceres Cerium  
Pallas Palladium  
Jupiter   Tin
Saturn   Lead
Uranus Uranium  
Neptune Neptunium  
Pluto Plutonium  

Though this still leaves many former planets and dwarf planets without an element of their own.

Interesting Alternate Element Names

Many elements have alternate names, and there are good reasons for standardizing the names we have. But some alternate names are fairly interesting.

Wolfram, from wolf’s froth, in reference to the difficulties of mining wolframite. Plutonium
Extremium or Ultimium, from the false belief that this was the final element. Mercury
Quicksilver, or Hydrargyrum, which is Greek for ‘water-silver’

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