How the Planets got their Names
By Madhavi Pothukuchi
31 July 2022
What's so mercurial about Mercury? And what does 'Earth' really mean? What language is it even? The planets of our Solar System have some interesting names. Comprised mostly of Greek and Roman gods, the names were given for a reason. Let’s take a look at why.
Mercury is the first planet in our solar system and the Roman god of travel, commerce and thievery. The Romans named the planet after him, most likely because of how quickly it moves around the Sun.
Venus, the second planet, is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty because it shines the brightest in the night sky and is the most visible planet from Earth. It is the only planet to be named after a goddess and not a god.
Earth is the most remarkable planet in our Solar System. Interestingly, it isn’t named after a Roman god. Its name comes from the old English and German word meaning ‘dirt’ or ‘ground’. So the unique name does make sense!
First observed by Galileo in 1610, the red planet is named after the Roman god of war thanks to its fiery appearance. Its two moons, Phobos and Deimos, are also appropriately named after Roman gods – the gods of fear.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and is a gas giant – like the king of all the planets. So it was reasonable to name him after the king of Roman gods – Jupiter, the equivalent of Zeus in Greek mythology.
The sixth planet in the solar system and the biggest planet with rings is named after the Roman god of agriculture and wealth. Fun fact: the planet gets about 10 million tons of diamond rain each year.
Uranus is a huge planet full of ice and was discovered by German-British astronomer William Herschel in 1781. Though another astronomer Johann Elert Bode named it after the Greek god of the sky, Uranus, because of its sky-blue colour.
Neptune was the first planet discovered through mathematical calculations by John Adams and Urbain Le Verrier. German astronomer Johann Galle confirmed its existence and wanted to name it after the two astronomers, but Le Verrier suggested naming it after the Roman god of the sea.
While Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, it is interesting to note that it was also named after a Roman god. Its existence as the last place in the solar system earned it the name of the Roman god of the underworld, the equivalent of Hades in Greek myth.