Elemental etymology

“Name ten elements that have English names that don’t start with the same letter as their symbol”

This question was posed to one of the Nature Chemistry team over dinner this weekend, and then relayed to the rest of us over tea this morning. We all got them eventually (and without cheating by looking at the lovely Visual Elements Periodic Table – smuggled out of the RSC by someone who shall remain nameless – that adorns the wall behind us).

This puzzle was then set loose in the Twittersphere (surely it’s just a matter of time before that word’s in the OED!). I won’t give away the answers just in case you want to play the game for yourself – and it’s not exactly difficult to look them up anyway. As a side note, you can find us on Twitter as @naturechemistry.

As the ball was well and truly rolling, we then decided to ask our followers to name the 12 (or 13) elements named after people. It was a team effort, but @LeighJKBoerner, @premjg, @SmallCasserole, @zatytom, and @Fifi_T combined to get them all (sorry if I missed anyone out).

Again, I’ll not give away the answers here, but if you don’t want to play, you can look on Wikipedia for them. And more information on whether it is 12 or 13 elements named after individuals can be found here.

This whole exercise got us thinking about who does not have an element named for them – and who perhaps should in the future. There was some musings on this topic in the blogosphere when the name of element 112 was being proposed and finalised – and we wonder what Sceptical Chymist readers think.

There are lots of very famous scientists without an element to their name, and quite a few of them are chemists. Should Pauling have an element named in his honour? How about Boyle or Dalton? Let us know what you think – and whether it’s all just physics anyway!


Stuart Cantrill (Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry)