Uranus has its roots in Roman mythology

It seems a little naughty, the name of our seventh planet.

Uranus was named for the Greek supreme and original god, ruler of the universe. Even the composition of Uranus makes it the butt of jokes — the ice giant and its atmosphere are gaseous.

Astronomers followed an ancient tradition when they named the planets. Western civilization used the Greek names Ermis, Aphrodite, Aris, Dias and Kronos to name the first planets. Earth was named Gaia.

History gives naming rights to the conquerors. When Rome dominated Greece, all the names flipped to the Roman equivalent. The planets became Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Gaia became Ge. An altogether different story is why English speakers kept all the Roman names except Ge, instead creating a new word for our home planet, Earth.

Uranus was the first planet discovered using a telescope.

Astronomers in the late 1700s looked to the classical pantheon to find its name, after convincing the discoverer that his king’s name, George, didn’t follow tradition.

In Roman mythology, Saturn is the father of Jupiter, so the new planet used the Greek name for Saturn’s father — Uranus.

When another new planet was announced almost 100 years later, it was named Neptune for the Roman god of the sea.

A ninth planet was found in our solar system in 1930. An international call went out to find a name, and an 11-year-old British girl came forward with Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld. Ten years ago, the International Astronomical Union confirmed Pluto was too small and forbid it to be associated with the name planet. The name Pluto, though, remains.

Planets use different names in other lands.

Going back thousands of years, various cultures were inspired to name the first six planets using their native languages, such as Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Bengali, Thai, and Mandarin Chinese.

Those same languages defaulted to the classical names for Uranus and Neptune.

During the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, Israel invited citizens to propose Hebrew names for Uranus and Neptune, which have since been renamed Oron and Rahav.


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