Aug 012012

Uranus is unique among the planets for both a natural reason – its horizontal axis of rotation – and also a human reason: it is a Greek God among Romans.

Roman Name Greek Name God of
Mercury Hermes Trade & Travel
Venus Aphrodite Love
Mars Ares War
Jupiter Zeus King of the Gods
Saturn Kronos Time
Caelus Uranus The Sky
Neptune Poseidon The Sea

Why the German chemist Bode thought that the Greek name was better than the Roman, we may never know. But it’s interesting to note that Herschel explicitly thought that a Roman name for the planet was a bad idea. In his letter to Sir Joseph Banks in 1783 he says:

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, were given to the planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era, it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method, and call on Juno, Apollo, Pallas or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration in any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology; if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, “In the reign of King George the Third.” As a philosopher, then, the name of GEORGIUM SIDUS presents itself to me, as an appellation which will conveniently convey the information of the time and country where and when it was brought to view.

It was pretty tricky trying to find actual occurrences of The Georgium Sidus or the other names being used in print. Here it is in an 1820 Nautical almanac listed as Georgian. I felt pretty lucky to have stumbled upon the 1823 Encyclopædia Britannica and the article mentioned in the video.


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