Saturday, 29 July 2017

Solar System Etymologies

Having looked at the names of constellations and then individual stars, I thought perhaps having a look a little closer to home and examining the origins of the name of the bodies of the Solar System. Here the list covers the planets and their respective satellites working out from the sun. As an afterthought I've added a few of the dwarf planets. Note the list is not definitve.

MERCURY - the innermost planet and named by the Romans. Originally Mercurius was a the god of tradesmen and thieves, his name derived from merx or 'merchandise' and thus related to the modern 'market'.

VENUS - another from Roman mythology, she the goddess of beauty and love, particularly the physical variety. Indeed her name is derived from Proto-Indo-European wen meaning 'to desire'.

EARTH - considering this is our home, it has only been known as such since around 1400. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European er 'earth, ground' and comes from a time when our home was considered the centre of all things.

Luna - our moon, the name coming from Proto-Indo-European leuksna and its root leuk meaning 'light, brightness'.

MARS - another Roman god, although here the origins are questioned some think it derived from an Etruscan child god Maris while others point to Mawort ta war god. The name was also given to the red planet as it would have reminded them of the god of war. The Greeks knew the planet as Pyroeis 'the fiery'. It seems improbable to think the original name meant anything other than 'rage, anger, battle'.

Deimos - the smaller and out moon of Mars, named from the mythological son of Mars and Venus (or Ares and Aphrodite if looking at the Greek version) and the twin brother of Phobos. Demos is the Greek word for 'dread' and was the Greek god of terror.

Phobos - like his twin brother Deimos a mythological god and from the Greek phobos or 'fear'. Etymologically the sense had previously been 'flight', later as 'panic, fright', and all based on the Proto-Indo-European root bhegw 'to run'.

JUPITER - this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European dyeu-peter 'god father'. We can take this back further to dyeu 'to shine, heaven, god' along with peter 'father, male head of the household'. Similar meaning is seen in the Greek Zeus pater and Sanskrit Dyaus pitar

Amalthea - in mythology the foster-mother of Zeus, her name from the Greek for tender goddess.

Ananke - until 1975 this mon had been known as Jupiter XII. To confuse matter further for the previous years it was sometimes known as Adrastea, this name now given to another satellite and discussed below. Ananke, with a little help from Zeus, was the mother of the Moirai or Fates and her name comes from the Greek anankaie 'force, constraint' and most often 'necessity'.

Adrastea - formerly known as Jupiter XV and only discovered in 1979 when photographed by Voyager 2, thus making it the first natural satellite discovered by a spacefraft and not a telescope. Its name comes from the mythology foster mother of the Greek god Zeus, Adrasteia the Greek for 'inescapable'.

Callisto - discovered by Galileo Galilei it is the third largest moon in the solar system. Again a figure from mythology, she was a nymph or the daughter of King Lycaon, depending on which story you read, and takes her name from the Greek for 'most beautiful'.

Carme - named after the mythological Carme, mother of Britomartis (Zeus again playing a part), and named from the Greek word for 'shearer'.

Elara - known as Jupiter VII until 1975 and, for the previous twenty years, also known as Hera. It is named after the mother of the giant Tityos, she also the lover of (surprise, surprise) Zeus. The name means either 'angel' or 'messenger' depending upon which mythological story is read.

Europa - in mythology the daughter of the king of Tyre who, yes you guessed it, was another of Zeus' lovers but on the plus side she did give a name to the continent of Europe and a moon. Her name is comprised of two Greek words: eurus 'wide, broad' and opt 'eye, face, countenance'. Take from that whatever you like.

Ganymede - a Greek mythological character who did not father children with Zeus, although this was probably only because Ganymede was male. Yet Zeus, disguised as an eagle, did kidnap Ganymede and took him to Olympus where he served as cup-bearer. Mythology does record an erotic relationship between Zeus and Ganymede, this leading to the Latin form of Catamitus, itself the origin of the word 'catamite'. His name comes from the Greek ganymai 'to be glad' and medomai 'to think, to plan'.

Himalia - named after the nymph who bore three sons of ..... guess who? .... yes, by Zeus! Another not named until 1975, previously this was Jupiter VI. The name of Himalia probably comes from the Greek himalia meaning 'abundance of wheat meal'.

Io - no prizes for guessing who was sleeping with Io ...... yes, that Zeus fellow again Although he didn't seem overly grateful for the sexual favours as he turned her into a cow. Ancient Greek would have pronounced the name as EE-AW, although just where this name originates is unknown.

Leda - and known as Jupiter XIII until 1975, albeit not for long as it was only discovered the previous year. Greek mythology had her as, In what is becoming a somewhat monotonous mantra, a lover of Zeus. What Zeus (or Jupiter) lacked in commitment, he more than made up for in chat up lines for he appeared to Leda as a swan, falling into her arms to escape pursuit by an eagle (an everyday occurrence in Morrisons' car park). Her name is possibly an early Greek word for 'woman'.

Lysithea - named in 1975, previously known as Jupiter X or even Demeter. It is named after daughter of Oceanus who grew up to become one a lover of Zeus. Nothing is known of the origin of her name.

Metis - not named in 1975 but in 1983 as it was not discovered until 1979. It is named after Metis, the first wife of Zeus, whose name means 'wisdom, skill, craft'.

Pasiphae - named in 1975, formerly known as Jupiter VIII or Poseidon, it was discovered in 1908. It is named after the wife of Minos in Greek mythology, she also the mother of the Minotaur. Pasiphae is Greek from pas phaos and understood as 'wide shining'. (Note no Z-word here.)

Sinope - named in 1975, previously known as Jupiter IX or Hades, it was discovered in 1914 and the origins of her name are unknown. However we do know she was abducted by none other than Zeus. As the chief of the gods and all-powerful he was not stretching the truth when he promised to grant her anything she desired. She said she wished to remain a virgin all her life and Zeus was forced to grant her wish and ensure he failed at least once.

Thebe - named in 1983 after discovery by Voyager 1's flyby four years earlier, it had previously been known as Jupiter XIV, and named after a lover of Zeus. The origin of the name is unknown.

SATURN - takes the name of the Roman god of agriculture, whose name has variously been defined as from satu 'sowing', satis 'satisfaction', and stercus 'dung, manure'. Saturn's official moon count is 62, all but nine have names but we will content ourselves with a few examples.

Atlas - named after the figure from Greek mythology who holds the Earth on his shoulders for this moon also appears to support the rings of Saturn. The name has several suggested origins including Latin durus 'enduring'and Berber adrar 'mountain', and Proto-Indo-European telh 'uphold, support'.

Calypso - etymologically this is from Greek alypto 'to cover, hide, conceal', which fits with the myth of this nymph of Greek mythology detaining Odysseus for several years on the island of Ogygia.

Dione - named after the Titanesse of Greek mythology, this is essentially the feminine form of Zeus, itself from Djeus the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky and also known as Dyeus ph-ter or 'sky father'.

Enceladus - ma,ed after the giant of Greek mythology, the name from the Greek enkeleuo meaning either 'to urge on' or 'to sound the charge'.

Epimetheus - named after the Greek mythological figure, brother of Prometheus, their names meaning 'hindsight, afterthinker' and 'foresight, fore-thinker' respectively.

Hyperion - named a character from Greek mythology, one of the twelve Titans. The name is from the Greek Huperion or 'high one'.

Iapetus - another Titan of Greek mythology, this from the Greek Iaoetos 'the piercer'.

Janus - the Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. Unusually there is no Greek equivalent of this two-faced god. Etymologically there are three distinct suggestions for this name: hiantem 'to be open'; det 'to shine'; and ire 'to go'.

Mimas - another of the giants born of Gaia and the blood of the castrated Uranus (ah, so that explains it) although the etymology of the name is unknown.

Phoebe - another of the Titans, this name coming from the Greek Phoibe 'shining'.

Rhea - another named after a Titan, Rhea in Greek mythology was 'the mother of the gods' although her name probably originates in rheo 'flow'.

Titan - aptly named as this is not only Saturn's largest moon but the second largest in the solar system, indeed it is larger than the planet Mercury. This is named after the Titans, a race of giants and a world probably be from an early word tito meaning 'sun, day'.

URANUS - a Greek name originally Ouranos 'heaven, the sky'.

Ariel - named after a character in A Midsummer Nights Dream a play written by a chap named Shakespeare, apparently.Ariel is derived from the Herbrew word for 'altar'.

Miranda - named after a character in A Midsummer Nights Dream whose name is derived from the Latin mirari 'to admire'. The playwright's first name was William.

Oberon - named after the king of the fairies in A Midsummer Nights Dream and probably an Old French Auberon and an early loan word from a Germanic source meaning 'elf'. I'm told old Bill Shakespeare was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon and on the same date in April.

Titania - named after the queen of the fairies in A Midsummer Nights Dream and is of Greek origin meaning 'daughter of the Titans'. The play was written by a man named Shakespeare who, so we hear, created a lot of English words.

Umbriel - named after a character in A Midsummer Nights Dream and a name derived from the Latin umbra or 'shadow'. Little old Billy the Bard went on to annoy a lot of people after his death and for centuries, too. Well let's get our own back by revealing that he, labelled the greatest wordsmith of all time, couldn't spell his own name and used a number of different spellings.

NEPTUNE - is the god of the sea in Greek mythology, hence the moons being named after minor Greek water deities. The name shares a root with 'nebula' in coming from Proto-Indo-European nebh 'cloud' and here used in a sense 'moist, wet'.

Nereid - named after the sea nymphs of Greek mythology and translates as 'nymph'.

Triton - is a Greek word related to Old Irish trethan 'the sea'.

Neso - not included because of its etymology, which is unknown, but because it has the longest orbital period of any moon known. It takes 26 years and 8 months and, to put this into context this means that since Neptune was discovered in 1846 the moon has been around the planet just over six times while our moon has been round us over two thousand times.Looking at it a different way, when Neso was last in this position in orbit around Neptune, Tony Blair had yet to be elected as a Member of Parliament, George Bush Snr was President of the United States, Saviour's Day by Cliff Richard was the UK number one single, Manchester United still hadn't won a title under Alexander Chapman Feguson, a first-class stamp cost 24p (18p for second-class), a loaf of bread would have cost you 50p, a pint of beer 99p, 80 tea bags for 46p, a pint of milk for 30p, and the essential Mars Bar 15p.

PLUTO - the Roman god of the underworld whose name comes from Proto-Indo-European pleu 'to flow'.

Charon - the ferryman of the dead over the river Styx, from the Greek Kahron and derived from the root chaopos 'of keen gaze'.

Hydra - is the name of the nine-headed serpent of Greek mythology killed by Heracles as the second of his twelve labours. Its name is the feminine version of hydros 'water snake'.

Nix - is the name of the Greek goddess of darkness and night, mother of Charon although strictly speaking the classical spelling is Nyx. She has few mentions in surviving mythology but what little is known suggests she was a goddess of incredible power and beauty and even Zeus himself feared her. The name Nix (or Nyx) comes from the Greek nykto 'night'.

Kerberos - this is the Greek version of the hound of Hades usually known as Cerberus in English. Etymology is uncertain but may be from Proto-Indo-European meaning 'spotted', albeit no depiction or writing of the three-headed hound ever mentions spots. Other suggestions include creoboros 'flesh-devouring', Ker berethrou 'evil of the pit', and the wondrous idea this comes from Proto-Indo-European ger 'to growl'

Styx - the river crossed to reach Hades, or so Greek mythology would have us believe. Its name comes from the Greek stygos 'hatred', stygnos 'gloomy', or stygein 'to abominate'.

Ceres - once the largest asteroid, it is now considered a dwarf planet. It is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres comes from the Proto-Indo-European root kerh meaning 'to satiate, feed'.

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