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How the Planets Got Their Names

Updated on May 30, 2013

Naming the Planets

Have you ever wondered where the planets got their names? What the heck is a Jupiter?

Well, unless you are very familiar with Latin, the language the word originated, or Roman mythology, its not very likely that you'd really know that the planets are really named after Gods from the ancient Roman Pantheon!

Each planet received a name, usually due to color, time of appearance in the sky, or other observations about it's orbit.

Mercury
Mercury

Mercury

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is given its name after the god Mercury from Roman mythology. Mercury is not a name very widely recognized (aside from being the name of that red gooey stuff you're not supposed to break the thermometer to play with)

More likely though, you have heard of Mercury's counterpart in Greek mythology: Hermes.

Both Mercury and Hermes were the "messengers of the Gods" in their respective cultures; Mercury was also known as the god of commerce, travel, and thievery.

The planet received this name because of how quickly it travels across the sky (due to its short orbit)

Venus
Venus | Source

Venus

Venus is the Roman equivalent to the greek goddess Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty. (Basically, she was a fertility goddess)

Venus itself is also the second brightest object in the night sky, one of the reasons for it being named after the goddess of beauty.

Earth (duh)
Earth (duh) | Source

Earth

Earth is actually the only planet whose name is NOT derived from Roman mythology.

The word "earth" actually simply comes from old English roots, and the Greek and Roman gods of the earth have different names entirely! (Gaia and Tellus, respectively)

Mars
Mars | Source

Mars

Mars is the Roman god of War, likened to and derived from the Greek god Ares.

The name is associated to this particular planet most likely because of it's red color.

Fun fact of the day: remember the "Looney Tunes" character Marvin the Martian? He was in fact designed specifically to look like the ancient Roman god Mars, (Ares) in honor of the guy!

Jupiter
Jupiter | Source

Jupiter

Jupiter is in Roman mythology the counterpart to Zeus in Greek Mythology. He is the King of the Gods, Ruler of Olympus. He is also the son of Saturn (Cronus in Greek Myth)

The name partially came from the fact that Jupiter is the third brightest object in the sky.

Saturn
Saturn

Saturn

Saturn named after Saturnus, who is the Roman god of agriculture; often associated with the greek god Cronus (also son of Uranus)

It is one of the most easily visible of the planets and can be seen with the naked eye.

Uranus
Uranus | Source

Uranus

Uranus is the ancient Greek deity of the heavens, the only planet aside from the earth that does not come from Roman myth.

I'm unsure as to why the name "Uranus" was used in the end for this planet, but the English astronomer who discovered it originally named it Georgium Sidus after King George III, and through the years many other names were proposed for Uranus, until eventually in the late 1700s and early 1800s "Uranus" was the most common name for the planet.

Neptune
Neptune | Source

Neptune

Neptune is the Roman counterpart to the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon.

The observed color of the planet being blue, the reasoning behind the nomenclature here couldn't make any more sense.

Computer Generated map of Pluto
Computer Generated map of Pluto

Pluto

I know what you're thinking, and guess what: I don't care. Pluto may no longer be a planet, but I still think no less of it, and I would just plain feel bad leaving him out.

Or, maybe I should, seeing Pluto is the god of the underworld in Roman mythology, counterpart to the Greek god Hades! I guess Pluto was the runt of the gods, now he's no longer even good enough to have a planet named after him... poor guy!

Aphrodite/Venus
Aphrodite/Venus | Source
Jupiter Statue
Jupiter Statue | Source
Hades with the Cerberus (three headed dog)
Hades with the Cerberus (three headed dog) | Source

Comments

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    • Jbern117 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jbern117 

      6 years ago from Dunmore, PA

      I was trying to find that out myself, but honestly there is no explanation to why they didn't use the Roman name in any of my astronomy books or online sources; I'll keep looking though... it may just have been the preference of the scientist who named it; there are many times small differences between the Greek and Roman counterparts so maybe uranus had a particular quality that Caelus did not, though that's just guessing. Thanks for the comment!

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 

      6 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Cool hub! I wonder why they decided to use Greek mythology to name Uranus, rather than be consistent and use all Roman names? The Roman equivalent would be Caelus, which is a perfectly fine name (and would've avoided the childish snickers).

    • Jbern117 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jbern117 

      6 years ago from Dunmore, PA

      Thanks Helena, and yea I feel the same sentiment; they should have just made an exception for Pluto and let it keep it's planet status!

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      Very cool hub! I figured that they were named from Greek Mythology but never knew for sure. I too think Pluto got a bad rap. To me, it will always be a planet.

    • Jbern117 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jbern117 

      6 years ago from Dunmore, PA

      Thanks for the Comments Ari, yougotme, and window pain - and I suppose rectumus would be an unfortunate name, though Uranus isn't that far off!

    • Ari Lamstein profile image

      Ari Lamstein 

      6 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      They look great!

    • Jbern117 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jbern117 

      6 years ago from Dunmore, PA

      Of course, was about to but decided to publish first and finish it up later, now the photos are up, courtesy of NASA!

    • yougotme profile image

      Renz Kristofer Cheng 

      6 years ago from Manila

      You've got some interesting facts here JBERN! Although Ari Lamstein is right. Some pictures will giving your readers a more awesome reading experience. :)

    • Window Pain profile image

      Window Pain 

      6 years ago

      Uranus must have a name change. Every spoken discussion of this planet is immediately derailed by childish snickers and giggles. It'll never end until the name is changed.

      Surely, this august body of Hubpage astronomical enthusiasts can come up with a better name!

      (I hope there isn't some obscure God named Rectumus)

    • Ari Lamstein profile image

      Ari Lamstein 

      6 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Great Hub. Is it possible to include pictures of the planets as well?

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